Report: el-Sisi, Abdullah, to Push U.S. on New Israel-PA Talks

YERUSHALAYIM -
Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, King Abdullah II of Jordan, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas sit together at the Congress Center in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on March 13, 2015. (State Department Photo)

Arab media on Monday reported that both Jordanian King Abdullah and Egyptian head of state General Abdel el-Sisi will present a peace plan for renewed negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority when they visit Washington this week. Both are scheduled to meet with President Donald Trump at the White House, with President el-Sisi going to the White House Monday, and King Abdullah on Thursday, Israel Radio reported Monday.

Last month, President Trump spoke on the phone for the first time with PA chief Mahmoud Abbas, with the president inviting Abbas to Washington. According to media reports, the two discussed the importance of the two-state solution, and President Trump promised that he would actively promote negotiations between Israel and the PA. Israel Radio, quoting sources in Kuwait, said that both el-Sisi and Abdullah would push for a renewal of negotiations on that basis.

Ideally, they plan to tell President Trump, the negotiations should be accompanied by a mass release of terrorists by Israel, and a building freeze. Last week, however, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told Cabinet ministers that he had reached understandings with the Trump administration on construction – and those understandings did not entail a freeze. While Israel agreed to “restrain” construction in Yehudah and Shomron, the understandings entail that new housing will be limited to the “built-up” areas of settlements, meaning the areas that have already been approved for construction, or are within the municipal boundaries of settlements. Exceptions will be made for legal and security concerns, in which case construction will take place as close as possible to existing housing. New settlements – except for the one for Amona evictees – and new outposts will be banned. Construction need not be restricted to settlement blocs, either.

So far, the White House has not outrightly condemned Israeli construction in Yehudah and Shomron, although in a statement Thursday night reacting to the Cabinet decision on the new community, a White House official said that “while the existence of settlements is not in itself an impediment to peace, further unrestrained settlement activity does not help advance peace.”

Sources told Channel Two last week that Israeli officials were “very surprised” at how determined President Trump was to bring Israelis and Palestinians together for talks, given what appeared to be his very strong support for Israeli policies even after the election. Many officials had expected the administration to more or less ignore the Middle East conflict, as many of Trump’s advisers are of the opinion that it is irresolvable under current circumstances.

A report in the London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat Monday said that PA officials were “optimistic” in relation to their position, given what they said was the “change of attitude” in the White House on Israeli settlements. The pronouncements during the early days of the administration that led Israelis to believe that they would have a “free hand” building in Yehudah and Shomron have turned out to be false impressions, the PA officials said, and they were optimistic that, especially after the visits of el-Sisi and Abdullah, the U.S. would also “adjust” its attitude on the understandings already arrived at with Israel.