Bolton’s message

One theory about this week’s visit to Israel by US National Security Adviser John Bolton is that he was dispatched by President Donald Trump to suss out the chances of a resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The visit came after Trump pointedly said at a rally in Charleston, West Virginia, that since he had taken the issue of Jerusalem off the table, “Israel will have to pay a higher price because they won a very big thing” – referring to the US decision to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on May 14.

At a news conference at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel on Wednesday, Bolton explained that Trump, whom he called “a deal-maker,” expected the Palestinians to say after the embassy move, “So we didn’t get that one, we’ll get something else.” But, he added, the parties will have to “talk about it between themselves and see what, if anything, the price of that was.” 

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The responses from both Israel and the Palestinians were predictable. On the Israeli side, Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi – who is close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – assured Israelis that Trump has a warm spot for Israel and “will not turn on us.” Hanegbi stressed that he had constant with the White House and said that Trump was trying to find a way into the hearts of the Palestinians in order to regain their confidence in the US as an “honest broker.”

On the Israeli Left, Zionist Union MK Amir Peretz said it had been clear that the US would ask for a payback for the US Embassy move, adding, “No one can claim that this is a hostile president with demands that are not legitimate. Netanyahu cannot deny the need to make courageous decisions.”

Palestinian officials were more skeptical. Senior PLO official Ahmad al-Tamimi said Trump’s remarks reflected the “continued American policy that is biased in favor of Israel,” and he reaffirmed the PA’s “categoric rejection” of the peace plan expected to be announced soon by the US president. 

Where does this leave us? Well, Bolton sounded upbeat as he voiced the hope that there are “a lot of prospects” to find ways to resolve the problems facing the Palestinian people, but added that it was “a sad outcome” for the Palestinian people that “all they got now is a choice between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.” On the last of his three days of talks in the region, Bolton concluded that the aim of the long-awaited US peace plan is overseeing negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and he hoped this would become evident when Washington unveiled the plan.

Herein lies the problem and the challenge. As former Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky told The Jerusalem Post, “Whatever the US peace plan is, Israelis will probably accept it and the Palestinians will reject it.”

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Just this past Saturday, in an address to the PLO Central Council in Ramallah, PA President Mahmoud Abbas urged Palestinians “to keep the ground aflame with popular resistance” against Israel. Trump is giving Abbas, who is 82 and not in the best of health, what may be his last shot at giving peace a chance and be a party to “the ultimate deal” – in the interests of his own people and his own legacy for the next generation. 

“The fundamental point,” Bolton said at his news conference, “is that ultimately this is something the parties are going to have to agree on. One of the most cogent things I’ve ever heard about the Middle East was something that secretary of state Jim Baker said during the George H.W. Bush administration: ‘We can’t want peace more than the parties themselves.’”

Netanyahu has repeatedly stated that he is willing to meet Abbas anywhere and at any time. We urge Abbas to change course immediately and express his willingness, not only to learn the details of the Trump peace plan, but also to sit down and negotiate directly with Israel. There is no other way to achieve peace, and there is no time like the present.

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