Veteran Negotiators Optimistic About Trump’s Mideast Bid

Two veteran Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, who logged many hours together in failed efforts to strike a deal, said Saturday they are optimistic about President Donald Trump’s Mideast bid.

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat and former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni spoke in separate interviews on the sidelines of a regional World Economic Forum meeting. Erekat remains the chief Palestinian negotiator while Livni is a leading opposition member of Israel’s parliament.

Trump was in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, the first stop of the president’s first international trip, at a time when his young administration is engulfed in controversy. On Monday and Tuesday, Trump is to visit Israel and the West Bank, for meetings with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

Erekat told The Associated Press that he is encouraged by Trump’s determination, describing the president as “very serious” about reaching a deal.

The Palestinian negotiator dismissed reports that Israeli and Palestinian delegations would meet later in the week, following Trump’s visit to the Holy Land. The last round of U.S.-led negotiations broke down in 2014, and no serious talks on the leadership level have taken place since 2008.

“I don’t think there is anything set yet, not in Cairo, not in Ramallah, not anywhere,” Erekat said. He met two days ago with Trump’s regional envoy, Jason Greenblatt, and said they were trying to decide on the next steps.

In Saudi Arabia, Trump is meeting with Arab leaders to Forge stronger alliances to combat terrorism.

Erekat said the message to those gathered in Saudi Arabia is that ending Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem – lands Palestinians seek for their state – is key to defeating terrorism. “This is the way to prosperity, peace and stability in the region,” he said.

Livni said strong Arab support for a future Israeli-Palestinian deal is a “game changer” that could help sway a skeptical Israeli public.

“There is a big opportunity now in the region,” Livni told AP. “The role of the Arabs is very important since basically they can back any decision-making by the Palestinians, but also send a message to the Israelis that peace is not just between Israelis and Palestinians, but can change the entire region.”

Arab countries offered Israel normal ties in exchange for a withdrawal from the occupied lands as far back as 2002, but Israeli governments did not embrace the so-called Arab Peace Initiative, instead expressing a series of reservations. A majority of ministers in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Cabinet oppose a two-state solution.

Livni said the Arab Peace Initiative sends an important message but suggested each side could take interim measures instead of waiting for a final peace deal. She said the Arab world could take steps toward Israel in exchange for Israeli gestures toward the Palestinians.

Livni said Netanyahu would have a parliamentary majority for any peace moves, despite his current nationalist coalition.

“There is a majority in the Israeli parliament and in the Israeli public that support not only the vague idea of two states for two peoples, but really decision-making,” she said.


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