The Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. sharply criticized former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for appearing at a press conference with former Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, after Abbas criticized the Trump administration’s Middle East peace plan before the U.N. Security Council.
“On the same day that [Abbas] failed in his attempt to condemn the U.S. and Israel in the Security Council here at the U.N., Mr. Olmert is endorsing [Abbas],” Ambassador Danny Danon said Tuesday. “He is endorsing diplomatic terrorism against Israel. It is shameful.”
The Palestinians had sought to have a Security Council resolution condemning the U.S. plan on Tuesday, but the resolution was shelved the previous day, apparently for failing to garner enough support.
At Tuesday’s press conference at the at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Midtown Manhattan, Abbas said he is prepared to resume negotiations “where we left it with you, Mr. Olmert, under the umbrella of the international quartet [U.N., U.S., EU and Russia], and not on the basis of the plan of annexation and legalizing settlements and destroying the two-state solution. This pushes the region and its people further and further in the cycle of violence and chaos, something I want to reiterate again we are against. We don’t want violence.”
Olmert, who served as Prime Minister from 2006-2009, said at the press conference that Abbas “is a man of peace, he is opposed to terror,” and a partner for Israel to negotiate with. “I think that it is important to listen not only to the negative sides in the attitude of the Palestinian president, but also to the positive side – he says that he’s prepared to negotiate [at] any given time with the state of Israel.”
When the Trump plan was announced Jan. 28, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, speaking at the White House with U.S. President Donald Trump, said he is willing to negotiate with the Palestinians on the basis of the plan. But Abbas declared the plan dead on arrival.
The plan gives the Palestinians a demilitarized state with a capital in eastern Yerushalayim, requires that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state and allows Israel to annex swaths of Yehudah, Shomron and the Jordan Valley.
In his own comments before the Security Council on Tuesday, Danon said that if Abbas were “serious about negotiating, he wouldn’t be here in New York, he would be in Jerusalem. Complaining instead of leading, that is Abbas’ way.”
“Progress toward peace will not be made so long as President Abbas remains in his position,” said Danon. “Only when he steps down, can Israel and the Palestinians move forward. A leader who chooses rejectionism, incitement and glorification of terror can never be a real partner for peace.”
At a press briefing a day earlier to discuss the Trump peace plan, Danon said the plan contains some “impressive ideas, and we are willing to negotiate on the ideas.”
“We are open-minded, unlike the Palestinians, who immediately, I don’t think they even bothered to read the details of the plan, they announced that they will not accept it, and I think President Abbas planned his visit to New York immediately,” said Danon. “And that’s unfortunate because it is part of the Palestinians’ approach to always say no. When you look at the history of the Israelis compared to the Palestinians, when we were offered a state more than 70 years ago, we grabbed it. We were not happy about it, we had arguments, but [David] Ben-Gurion back then said we will take it and we will move on, and that’s what we did, and look where we are today. And the Palestinians always say … ‘it is not enough, it is not good, we don’t like that, we don’t trust this guy’ and always say no, and that is what they are doing today with the peace plan.”
The Trump Administration, led by the plan’s chief architect Jared Kushner, made an effort to reach out to Sunni Arab states while preparing the plan. Many of these countries have also become closer with Israel in recent years, particularly as they share concerns over Iran’s ambitions in the region. Envoys from Bahrain, Oman and the UAE participated at the Jan. 28 White House event. But earlier this month, the Arab League voted unanimously to reject the plan, which Danon referred to as “the gang mentality.”
“When you deal with an ambassador and you speak with him, you can share ideas,” said Danon. “But when they come together, the most radical country will drag the rest to their radical ideas, radical resolutions.”
Though some right-wing elements in Israeli government are calling for immediate annexations, the Trump administration has warned Israel against annexation without U.S. consent, and Danon on Monday, citing past statements by Netanyahu, reiterated that “any step, if it will be taken, it will be [in] coordination with the administration.”
Danon said time is running out for the Palestinians to achieve their objectives, and that refusing to negotiate will only hurt them.
The plan is “kind of a reality check for the Palestinians,” said the ambassador. “I believe that the Jordan Valley should be part of Israel and I think that there are some assumptions that it’s a given, and if the Palestinians will not negotiate, it will become a reality without them. I think that’s what they have to understand from the administration. And by the way, some people, also in the Arab world, are getting tired [of] the games of the Palestinians.”
The Trump plan also calls for $50 billion of international investment in the Palestinian economy, which Danon believes could be “a game changer for the Palestinians.” But, he said, “I feel bad for the Palestinians in Gaza, in the West Bank, because it looks like they will ignore these proposals again and they will stay where they are.”
Trump, a Republican, faces a reelection battle this year. Some Democratic candidates are seen as pro-Palestinian and may not be interested in implementing the Trump peace plan.
Nevertheless, said Danon, “no matter who is the president in the White House, we will have to sit down and negotiate with the Palestinians. Maybe one time we will feel that the U.S. is on our side, or the next time the Palestinians will feel that the administration is supporting them, but at the end of the day, we will have to be in the room negotiating the issues. And what the peace plan did, it came up with new ideas, and that‘s what’s important, because, you know, maybe if [it] didn’t work for 70 years with the old ideas, maybe it is time to think about new ideas.”