The meeting tackled several topics of relevance including a possible US congressional vote on a resolution supporting a two state solution. Senator Lindsey Graham gave statements in Jerusalem recently expressing support to the two state solution. Topics also included the aftermath of the Manama economic workshop and the next steps anticipated by the US Administration towards a possible release of the so called “deal of the century.”
Fatah Central Committee member and veteran Palestinian political leader and diplomat Dr. Nasser al Kidwa joined as a guest Horizon Center Director Ibrahim Dalalsha in the discussion with Ambassador Walles.
The meeting started with a question on the on the statements made recently by the Senator Lyndsey Graham who expressed support for the two state solution and dismissed as “crazy” the one state solution. Walles described these statements as important reflecting continuing support in the US congress, Senate and other circles in Washington DC outside the Administration for implementing the two state solution as a viable mechanism to achieve a lasting peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.
He said however that he believes the US Administration will block a possible vote on a two state resolution in the US congress and that the Republican Majority leader in the senate Mitch McConnell, who is a close confidant to President Trump, will likely not put the motion to a vote.
Despite this possible outcome, Mr. Walles said support to two state solution is strong in the US/ Washington circles outside the Administration, including among mainstream Jewish groups supporting Israel.
Walles said that he believes the US Administration will not allow this motion to pass into a law because of its close coordination with the Israeli PM Netanyahu and the Israeli right wing government.
He said that the Administration is working towards reframing all of the permanent status issues including the principle of two state solution and the creation of an independent Palestinian state as a means of resolving the Israeli –Palestinian conflict.
Walles also said that President Trump who has authorized a small group of influential figures in his Administration including Kushner, Freidman and Greenblatt to work and coordinate very closely with Israel through Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dremer.
Nonetheless, Walles reiterated the continuing support to the principle of two state solution among wide sectors outside the Administration across the US Congress, Senate and among the pro-Israel groups in Washington as well as US based think tanks.
He indicated that this ongoing support to the two state solution may well generate momentum and impact the nature and parameters of the so called deal of the century.
The aftermath of the Manama Economic Workshop
In response to a question on the possible US Administration next steps following the failure of the Manama Workshop, Mr. Walles said that he belies that this workshop produced no tangible results. He said that the workshop has failed to present new workable proposals or new practical mechanisms.
He said that the document which was released prior to the workshop did not present any new ideas. He said that for example the transportation corridor between the West Bank and Gaza is an old idea that was discussed in negotiations 20 years ago. He said that the workshop did not raise any funds by the participating countries and other players who participated in the workshop. He said that the workshop ended as it started with rhetorical speeches and the release of a superficial document that failed to address the core issues at stake.
Walles also said that the US administration team will probably work during the coming period to continue its initiative despite the failure of the Manama workshop.
Walles also said that the US Administration team is also likely to put forward specific proposals of a political nature in line with the statements made recently by US presidential Advisor Jared Kushner on the possible resettlement of refugees in countries where they currently reside. Kushner had recently stated that refugees ought to be resettled in countries where they reside noting improvement of living conditions of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon as a start.
Deal of the Century; next move?
In response to a question about the possible next steps by the US Administration in this context, Mr. Walles said that the US Administration will most probably refrain from releasing the text of the so called Deal of the Century while the Israeli election campaign is underway.
He predicted however that the US Administration will probably release the document after the Israeli elections even with the US election campaign underway. He noted that the US Administration does not want to turn the Israeli Palestinian conflict into a central issue before/ during the Israeli elections. In addition, he said that the release of this document before the Israeli elections, could confuse Netanyahu’s political campaigning during the Israeli elections. Therefore, he said that it is highly likely that the US Administration will wait until after the Israeli elections, and before the upcoming US elections in 2020 to release this document. He said that the release of this document before the US elections could be an asset to the US Administration among various electorally important groups e.g. the Evangelicals who favour the Administration’s policy towards Israel.
Goal of the US Deal of the Century:
In response to a question on the exact goals and objectives of the US Deal of the Century, Mr. Walles said that the current US Administration probably knows that the deal of the century will not be endorsed by the Palestinian leadership and will not lead to any form of negotiations. He however noted that the current Administration thinks in a different manner when compared to previous Administrations.
He said that this Administration is seeking to reframe the issues at stake and to create a new terms of reference for any possible peace process in the future regardless of the prospects of initiating any meaningful process in the near term.
He said that this administration is seeking to reframe the terms of reference (TORs) for the peace process to replace previous US laid parameters including those of President Clinton, President Bush and President Obama. He said that the current US Administration has practically taken steps in this direction including shutting down the PLO mission in Washington DC, recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, relocating the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, closing the US Consulate which operated as a mission to the Palestinians, cutting down UNRWA funding, and closing US assistance programs to the Palestinians people.
Walles said that all of those steps mean to change the realities and impose de facto parameters endorsed by the US and Israeli right wing for any future peace process. Walles noted that should President Trump win the upcoming elections in the US in 2020, the Administration will probably attempt to push other players including the EU and others to embrace these new de facto imposed parameters.
Walles said that he believes that the current US Administration is seeking to lower Palestinian rights and national aspirations to a minimum. He said he believes that the current US Administration would suggest an expanded autonomy in place of independence and creation of a Palestinian state.
On the issue of refugees, he said that the US administration favours the resettlement of refugees in countries where they reside in place of implementing the UN resolution 194 stipulating right of return, repatriation and compensation. He said they the same applies to all other issues including Jerusalem, settlements and borders.
Walles said in conclusion that he believes such a plan would only be released after the Israel elections so as to ensure the Palestinian Israeli conflict does not turn into a central issue in the upcoming elections in Israel.
He said that he believes that the US Administration will continue to work and possibly release this plan before the US elections in 2020.
He said the key elements of the plan will most probably be consistent with the views of the Israeli right wing and disregard totally the international and political consequences of such an approach.
Horizon Center is an independent think tank, political studies and media outreach organisation based in Ramallah. Horizon Center seeks to promote a peaceful resolution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict by means of dialogue, creative thinking and promotion of alternative tactics serving the bigger goal of achieving a lasting peace.