EU Recognizes Washington as Indispensable to Peace Process; Palestinians Don’t Rule Out U.S. Participation

YERUSHALAYIM -
Abbas EU
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaking to the media before his meeting with EU foreign ministers in Brussels, Monday. (Reuters/Yves Herman)

Initial reports about the success of Mahmoud Abbas’s overture to the European Union to assume the role of peacemaker in the Mideast appear to have been overstated.

While the EU warmly welcomed Abbas, reiterated support for the two-state solution and rejected the U.S. recognition of Yerushalayim as Israel’s capital, foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini made it clear that Washington cannot be excluded from peace efforts.

“No effort will ever bring the two sides at the table if the international multilateral framework does not include the United States,” she stated. “The United States alone would not make it; the international community without the United States would not make it. We need to join forces.

“The Palestinian president was perfectly fine with this idea of not having the United States as the only interlocutor for the peace process, but of having a multilateral framework in which the European Union has a central role that is together with others, including our partners in the Quartet, including the United States,” she said after a meeting with Abbas in Brussels this week.

Majdi al Khalidi, a senior diplomatic adviser to Abbas, told The Times of Israel that the Palestinians would be willing to work with the U.S. if Washington was part of a multi-party international effort.

“We cannot accept the United States alone. But we are not against the United States being part of a multilateral mechanism,” he said.

No less important, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has said repeatedly in recent days that Israel will not enter into renewed peace talks unless the U.S. continues its role as mediator. It will not accept the Europeans, and certainly not the Russians, as was suggested by the Palestinians recently, as a substitute for the U.S.

“There is no alternative for American leadership in the diplomatic process,” he told Israeli ambassadors on Sunday. “Whoever is not ready to talk with the Americans about peace — does not want peace.”

In fact, anyone following closely the developments of the past few days can see that the Palestinians themselves admit that boycotting the U.S. is the equivalent of boycotting the peace process.

On Tuesday, a senior American official traveling with Vice President Pence as he departed from Israel, briefed reporters on the current status of relations between Washington and Ramallah, saying that the situation is not as bad is it sounds:

First, the official dismissed the idea that any European countries can step in and take over the U.S.’s role in the peace process.

“There isn’t a single European country or other country we’ve spoken to since the Dec. 6th announcement that in any way, shape or form believes a U.S.-led process could be replaced. They all want to work with the U.S., despite the Palestinian reaction.

“I don’t think anybody believes the U.S. can be replaced in this process. Frankly, I don’t believe the Palestinians believe the U.S. can be replaced in this process,” he said.

Regarding the Palestinian refusal to meet with U.S. envoys, the official said that even though the White House team has not been in touch with PA leadership since Dec. 6, it has been in contact with Palestinians who are not officials.

“There’s a difference between the Palestinian leadership and Palestinians… One of the tragic things that I have noticed since Dec. 6th is there are so many Palestinians who are reaching out… over the past 12 months, both in the West Bank and Gaza and Palestinian Americans. They all want to continue to talk, but they’re all afraid to talk. So they’re asking… for quiet meetings, private meetings. They’re under a lot of pressure not to talk. It doesn’t bode well for what we’re trying to create if there’s no freedom of speech among the Palestinians, so that troubles me greatly. And we’re trying to figure out how to deal with it.”

Responding to a question on British foreign minister Boris Johnson’s comment that the Yerushalayim declaration should have come with a symmetrical gesture for Palestinians:

“We weren’t out there to create symmetry or to impose anything. In 1995, as you know, Congress passed a law; President Trump promised to respect that wish of the American people. This wasn’t about anything symmetrical or deliveries; this was about… respecting what the American people asked for through Congress.”

He would not validate the sentiment that Palestinians feel like the U.S. “gave away” Yerushalayim without the right to do so:

“So how did they interpret the president’s remarks about the specific boundaries of sovereignty? In other words, what have we done that isn’t the reality on the ground and hasn’t been the reality on the ground? I don’t understand the comment. I don’t understand the remarks.

“I think what they’re doing is they’re taking parts of the President’s speech and ignoring the rest of the speech and using the parts that they don’t like for their own political purposes and completely not referring to the parts of the president’s speech that speak to those issues.

“I can’t say I’ve read every comment and every newspaper article that reported on the president’s speech, but I’ve read many and I’ve yet to see anything that specifically quotes what the president said, what the Vice President reiterated yesterday, which explains how Jerusalem does remain a final status issue and it is up to the parties to negotiate those borders. So I think any characterizations to the contrary is false.”