By Arab News
By Daoud Kuttab
Now that the situation in East Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa has calmed down somewhat, the Trump administration is planning to restart Arab-Israeli peace talks, even though there is little interest in the US-led effort at the present time.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is embroiled in a struggle to survive politically amid a likely corruption indictment, while the Palestinian leadership is focused more on who will succeed Mahmoud Abbas as president and on the upcoming meeting of the Palestinian National Council (PNC).
US President Donald Trump is sending a high-level delegation to Israel, Palestine and Arab states in a new peace push. The delegation will be headed by the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and is expected to visit Israel, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Jordan and Egypt.
Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell is expected to be part of the delegation. If she is, it will be the first time that a US delegation to the region will include an Arab American.
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Abbas, welcomed the impending visit. “We are committed to peace based on the two-state solution,” he said. “We informed the American administration that we are ready for peace on this basis. And we are waiting now for the American delegation to work together toward peace.”
The statement from the White House announcing the upcoming visit repeated the traditional US position, stating that the “US president reaffirms that peace between Israelis and Palestinians can only be negotiated directly between the two parties and that the United States will continue working closely with the parties to make progress towards that goal.”
It also said that Trump “believes that the restoration of calm and the stabilized situation in Jerusalem after the recent crisis … has created an opportunity to continue discussions and the pursuit of peace that began early in his administration.”
Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi told Arab News that the Palestinian leadership is much more concerned with the decision by the Fatah central committee to call for a meeting of the PNC. “We are not that hopeful for such visits, but right now our focus is on the upcoming meeting,” she said.
The last time that the Palestinian Parliament in exile met was in 1996, when a session attended by then-US President Bill Clinton in Gaza amended all clauses that contradict the Oslo Accords.
Marwan Muasher, a former Jordanian foreign minister, was equally ambivalent. “I don’t know anything about the visit, but if it is related to the peace process, I don’t expect anything,” he told Arab News.
Aaron David Miller, who was a member of the Clinton and Obama peace delegations to the region, posted a pessimistic remark on his Twitter account. “Hope goal of Kushner’s August peace mission isn’t reviving negotiations. Gaps on core issues are Grand Canyon like,” he wrote.
While there are obvious grounds for pessimism, the probable inclusion of Dina Powell does offer some hope of progress.
The daughter of an Egyptian Army captain, Powell was born in Cairo and moved to the US when she was 4 years old.
Powell is one of the few that actually has government experience, having served as assistant to the chief of White House personnel during George W. Bush’s presidency. She was later appointed assistant secretary of state for education and culture affairs, and traveled to the Middle East with Condoleezza Rice, the former US secretary of state, who has nothing but praise for Powell.
“Dina is one of the most capable people I know. She is creative and committed,” Rice told Politico in January. “She did crucial work for me at the State Department where we were trying to be more effective in outreach to the Muslim world and to empower women. Because of her own background as a woman of Egyptian descent she was a cultural ambassador — absolutely an essential member of my team.”