Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat condemns Trump’s immigration ban and his silence on Israeli settlement building.
BY JACK MOORE
Saeb Erekat, the chief negotiator for the Palestinians, launched a scathing assessment of President Donald Trump’s first week in office Monday, saying that if his actions became a four-year trend, then “God help us, God help the whole world.”
Trump has attracted domestic and international criticism after issuing an executive order that temporarily banned citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S.
“We totally disagree with this. It’s really not acceptable to target Muslims,” Erekat says, speaking to Newsweek by phone. “This is a ban on Muslims, this is not a ban on terrorists.”
He continues: “You may prevent people entering the United States, but can you prevent ideas to travel? President Trump can not stop ideas from traveling without visas.”
The secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the executive body of the Palestinian leadership, expressed concerns that Trump, unlike his predecessor Barack Obama, had failed to criticize two Israeli announcements of new settlement construction in the West Bank, including 2,500 new housing units.
The announcements ignored the U.N. Security Council resolution passed in December that condemned settlement building as a “flagrant violation” of international law. The majority of the international community views settlements as illegal and a major obstacle to peace in the region.
“We Palestinians are so worried. [Trump] does not comment. Trump is Trump and it’s up to him what he will do with the settlement policies. At the end of the day, peace is made between Palestinians and Israelis,” he says.
“My worst-case scenario: I’m under Israeli occupation. What can Trump do to me?” he asks. “He’s only been there for a week. If that’s the trend of four years: God help us, God help the whole world.”
A presidential adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas refused to comment on Trump’s action in his first week in the Oval Office.
Erekat, one of the potential candidates to succeed ageing Palestinian leader Abbas, also said that the Trump team had yet to make any contact with the Palestinian leadership, despite holding a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and inviting him to Washington for talks next month.
On the campaign trail, Trump had expressed hope of brokering the peace deal that has alluded every U.S. administration since the creation of Israel in 1948. The billionaire had stated that he would remain neutral on the conflict but, in a swift U-turn, called on Israel to continue settlement building.
Upon entering office, he appointed his son-in-law Jared Kushner, an Orthodox Jewish-American with no previous diplomatic experience, to broker peace in the region. His family organization has donated thousands of dollars to the hardline Israel settlement of Beit El in the West Bank.
“I don’t know the guy. I don’t know any of them,” Erekat says of Kushner. “We have sent them letters, written messages, they don’t even bother to respond to us.”
While the Israeli far-right celebrated Trump’s victory, with some cabinet ministers calling even heralding it a sign leading toward the end of a Palestinian state, Palestinians have spoken of their fears of what might happen under the new administration.
Trump has appointed a far-right, pro-settler ambassador to Israel in David Friedman, the chair of a U.S. settlement organization, and accepted a settler delegation at his inauguration. He has pledged to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, potentially recognizing the city as Israel’s capital despite the Palestinians earmarking its eastern districts for any future state.
The policy of previous administrations was that the city’s status would be decided in direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Abbas and other Arab leaders have condemned the potential move as inflammatory to the Muslim world.
Seeking to capitalize on Trump’s entrance into the White House, Netanyahu has moved quickly, announcing the settlement units, as well as lifting restrictions on construction in East Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in the 1967 Six-Day War.
He also advanced a bill that seeks to legalize some 4,000 settler houses built on private Palestinian land in the West Bank, a move that Israel’s top attorney called unconstitutional, in the midst of falling public support, pressure from the far-right, and an investigation into corruption allegations.
The law would allow Israel to expropriate private Palestinian land, offering Palestinians owners some financial compensation in return. The government postponed a parliamentary vote on the bill Monday night but it is expected to pass when it is reintroduced, likely Tuesday. Israel’s religious right views the West Bank and Jerusalem as the ancestral homeland of the Jews, referring to the former by the biblical terms Judea and Samaria.
Again, Trump’s administration remained silent on both moves, unlike its predecessors.
“It’s time for President Trump to stop these things and focus on what this region needs,” Erekat says. “What we need in this region is peace, what we need in this region is dialogue, what we need in this region is to bring Israelis and Palestinians back to the table.”