The Palestinians’ top negotiator said on Tuesday there could be no discussions with U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration until his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is reversed.
Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinians’ longtime chief negotiator, told AFP in an interview the decision was “part of a new American era of moving from negotiation to dictation.”
Trump’s Dec. 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital set off protests among Palestinians, who consider the city to be their capital as well. Erekat’s comments come with rhetoric further sharpening between Trump’s White House and the Palestinians, who have said the United States can no longer mediate in the Middle East conflict and boycotted a recent visit by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.
Last week, Trump accused the Palestinians of disrespecting the United States and threatened to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in aid until they returned to the negotiating table. Provoking Palestinian outrage, he reaffirmed his Jerusalem decision and said the disputed city had been taken “off the table,” despite having previously said his recognition did not preclude later negotiations on its borders.
Trump made the comments in Davos, Switzerland, while seated next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. According to Erekat, the Palestinians—faced with what they see as a blatantly biased U.S. administration—are aiming to convene an international conference in an effort to show global support for a two-state solution to the conflict.
Asked whether there can be any contact with the Trump administration if the Jerusalem decision is not reversed, Erekat said: “How can you?”
“You heard what President Trump said in Davos. He said: ‘We took Jerusalem off the table’. The minute any Palestinian goes and meets with American officials, it is an acceptance of their decision. Now they are threatening us with money, with aid,” he said. “They promised not to impose any solution, and now they want the meeting for the sake of the meeting.”
Erekat said it was as if they were telling the Palestinians, “Come here boy, we know what’s good for you.”
Jerusalem’s status is perhaps the most sensitive issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel sees the entire city as its undivided capital, while the Palestinians want the eastern sector as the capital of their future state.
Israel occupied east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it, a move never recognized by the international community. Trump’s unilateral recognition broke with decades of international consensus that the city’s status must be negotiated between the two sides.
The U.S. leader says he still intends to reach what he has called the “ultimate deal”—Israeli-Palestinian peace—but Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has called his efforts the “slap of the century.”
The Trump administration also hit out at Abbas last week, with U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley saying he lacked the courage needed for a peace deal. Erekat likened her comments to a call for a “coup d’etat.”
He alleged the Palestinians could have “Mother Teresa” as president, but Trump, Haley and Netanyahu would not accept her if she called for a two-state solution based on pre-1967 borders with east Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.
Israel also occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967. It has since withdrawn from Gaza, but continues to occupy the West Bank.
Netanyahu accuses the Palestinians of refusing to negotiate and of not recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. The Palestinians say they are open to talks under parameters that can lead to progress.
The PLO has long recognized Israel, though not as a Jewish state. Palestinian leaders recently threatened to suspend that recognition over Trump’s Jerusalem decision.
Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip, does not recognize Israel, with whom it has fought three wars.
Asked whether he believed the two-state solution was already dead, Erekat argued Trump and Israel’s right-wing government were in the process of destroying it. He said doing so would lead to “an enlargement of the cycle of violence, extremism and counter-violence.”
Erekat said his last meeting with the Trump administration was on Nov. 30 at the White House with the president’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner and his envoy Jason Greenblatt. There had been some 35 meetings at various levels in total since February last year, he said, but no details on the peace plan the White House says it is working on have been shared with the Palestinians. “Those who say that Jerusalem is off the table, they are literally saying peace is off the table,” Erekat said.