President Trump wants an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan “that the Palestinians think is equitable,” according to a U.S. official, notwithstanding his close relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“The notion that we're going to impose the Bibi plan on the Palestinians is a non-starter — it wouldn't work,” a senior administration official told reporters Monday, using Netanyahu’s nickname. “If that was our intent, we would have done it 18 months ago.”
Trump and Netanyahu have worked closely together over the last two years to deliver a series of historic policy shifts, including the relocation of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem last year. Trump followed that move with the recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights last week, an attempt to settle a 52-year-old debate over crucial territory taken during the Six-Day War of 1967 and a diplomatic victory for Netanyahu just weeks before the Israeli elections.
Arab officials condemned the unilateral move. "It is true that America is the strongest military force in the world, but its decision is absolutely worthless,” Ahmed Aboul Gheit, secretary-general of the Arab League, said Sunday.
U.S. officials believe that such rebukes are toothless in light of an increasingly public Israeli-Arab partnership that Trump’s team has been fostering. “We have to thank our Iranian friends for focusing everyone’s attention on a broader threat,” the senior administration official said wryly.
Arab officials denounced Iran at a February conference in Warsaw, Poland, with one diplomat even saying that Iran poses “a bigger challenge” to the region than the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Still, alarm about Iran doesn’t mean Trump can disregard Arab sentiments about the issues entirely.
“If it's done in a way that is understood by the streets in the various countries as pejorative to the Palestinians, then I don’t think all of that we're working toward is possible,” the official said.
Trump’s Middle East peace agenda is being managed by his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, who told officials at the Warsaw summit that he would withhold the plan until after the Israeli elections next week. Trump’s team hopes that economic opportunities — such as the January launch of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum, which includes the Israelis and the Palestinians — will help generate a breakthrough where so many other U.S. administrations have failed.
“There are possibilities for economic cooperation that haven’t been possible before and I think that is — along with the regional situation — an area of hope,” the official said, before touting the “little-noticed” gas forum. “That's your road to Middle East peace.”