The Aug. 24 top-level Palestinian meeting with US President Donald Trump’s envoys Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, and deputy national security adviser Dina Powell, ended on a positive note. So positive, in fact, that suddenly the Palestinian threats of recent days to abandon the US diplomatic channel unless progress was achieved dissolved in a sea of smiles.
Al-Monitor has learned that the only reason for this Palestinian optimism, at least for now, was a personal message conveyed by Trump through Kushner to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. According to the message, the president of the United States was committed to making supreme efforts to broker a historic peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and a detailed plan would soon be formulated setting out Trump’s vision of peace in the Middle East.
Kushner praised Abbas and told him the president greatly appreciated his efforts to quell domestic Palestinian unrest, as well as his desire to achieve an agreement with Israel knowing he will have to make tough decisions to get there.
The assertive attitude displayed by Trump and his team positively influenced the atmosphere and the mindset in Ramallah. Abbas, who at the start of the week expressed open displeasure with the unresponsive US peacemaking channel, immediately softened his stance.
At an Aug. 20 meeting in his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah with representatives of the left-wing Israeli Meretz Party, Abbas sounded disheartened. He told them he had met with Trump administration officials some 20 times and still did not understand how they were planning to bring about Trump’s promised Israeli-Palestinian “deal.” Al-Monitor reported that at the same meeting, Abbas warned he would give the visiting US envoys a 45-day ultimatum to clarify which way the administration was headed.
According to a senior Palestinian source who spoke with Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, Kushner told participants of Thursday’s meeting that the Americans sense Abbas does not trust them and had jumped to the wrong conclusions. The source added that Kushner said the Americans were hard at work on a plan that would constitute a solid basis for Israeli-Palestinian discussions, to avoid a recurrence of past instances when the sides quickly reached a dead end.
“There was a feeling that the Americans were offended,” the Palestinian source said, “and that’s why Abbas was quick to explain himself and say that he was willing to reach a peace deal, as Trump calls it — but does not see how this process can be jump-started because [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu keeps coming up with excuses. Abbas once again claimed that Israel continues its accelerated construction in the West Bank settlements and that so far, despite his many requests, he had not heard a single American comment or reprimand of Israel — not from the White House and not from the State Department — expressing concern about the ongoing settlement expansion.”
The source noted that it was Greenblatt who said bitingly, half in jest, that at the end of the 22nd meeting with the American envoys — i.e., their next meeting — Abbas would have a lot more answers to the questions that the team had come to work on. The source described a moment of embarrassment at that point, after which Abbas asked for the timetables and goals of the US moves.
The head of the Palestinian General Intelligence Service, Maj. Gen. Majid Faraj, considered a confidant of Abbas in contacts with the Americans, told Al-Monitor that the Palestinians cannot afford to drag their feet, unlike Netanyahu. “While Netanyahu keeps putting up obstacles to avoid getting to the negotiating table for fear that his government will collapse, Abbas wants to move forward because he is under growing domestic pressure,” Faraj said.
The Palestinians complained that to date, even after numerous meetings with the American envoys, they had not heard a determined and unambiguous stand from the Trump team, and from Trump himself for that matter, stating that the two-state solution would be the basis for any negotiations with the Israelis. At that point, the Palestinians were pleasantly surprised to hear in no uncertain terms that at the next meeting, which would likely be held before the start of the UN General Assembly in mid-September, they would be presented with the president’s vision through a type of road map. According to the source, this was implied and not spelled out.
“The Americans presented the message Trump sought to convey and spoke at length about his commitment and desire to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, despite the other burning issues claiming the president’s attention these days,” the source said.
Obviously, no one in the room mentioned the chaos at the White House and the internal power struggles being waged there. But the Palestinian team is aware of the limitations under which Trump is operating, and the question that always comes up in its internal deliberations is whether Trump is even able to ignite any sort of diplomatic process when he is unable to restore order within his own home. “This is something we still doubt, even after today’s meeting,” the senior source noted. “But the Americans promised that already at the next meeting they will show up with detailed position papers making it clear where we are headed.”
“We do feel there was progress on one thing,” the source said. “Today we understood more than ever that President Trump is indeed engaged [in the diplomatic process], he knows what his team is working on and what they are talking about, and he also found time despite the mess he is in to convey messages to Abbas.”
Despite the daily storms he is weathering, it appears Trump heard about the Palestinian displeasure with his administration’s diplomacy and surprisingly, rather than lashing out at the Palestinians, he decided to try and allay their concerns. Anyone who has experienced Trump's unpredictable reactions cannot but be impressed.