Trump 'Yet to Make Contact With PA,' Palestinian Diplomat Tells J Street Conference

Maen Areikat says Palestinian Authority interested in working with U.S. administration as long as relationship is based on 'long-standing U.S. policy'

Attendees listening to a speech at the J Street 2017 National Conference, February 27, 2017.
Amir Tibon

WASHINGTON – The Trump administration is yet to approach the Palestinian Authority directly to establish a working relationship, the Palestinians' chief representative in the United States said Monday while addressing the J Street 2017 National Conference.

“They have reached out to Arab diplomats, but not to us,” said Maen Areikat.

More than a month into the Trump presidency, the only direct contact between the administration and the PA was the visit of CIA Directer Mike Pompeo to Ramallah two weeks ago, said Areikat. That meeting took place a day before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s first meeting with Trump at the White House.

Areikat said the Palestinians were interested in working with the new administration as long as the relationship would be based on “long-standing U.S. policy” regarding the settlements and the two-state solution.

Areikat’s appearance at the conference was arranged at the last moment. He was deputizing for chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who was scheduled to appear but didn’t show for reasons that were not disclosed.

The third day of the conference opened amid reports of another wave of bomb threats against Jewish institutions across the United States.

The PLO's U.S. Ambassador Maen Rashid Areikat
Natasha Mozgovaya

Most of the discussions during the first session were devoted to the two-state solution, the Iran deal and other Middle East issues. However, Areikat touched on the subject of recent hate crimes in the United States directly in his keynote speech, noting: “We need to make sure that racists, bigots, anti-Semites and Islamophobes don’t succeed in this country.”

Areikat added he was not surprised to hear recent reports about Muslim Americans enlisting to help rebuild damaged Jewish cemeteries, or Jewish Americans aiding a Muslim community in Texas after its mosque was completely destroyed in a fire.

The references to those incidents drew strong applause from the audience, which filled the ballroom at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in downtown Washington.

Another prominent speaker was Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), who expressed support for the two-state solution and opposition to settlement building.

“I don’t support settlement construction inside a future Palestinian state, because I support Israel,” said Murphy. He also said that while U.S support for Israel “can’t be questioned,” there were indeed questions about what exactly it means to be pro-Israel these days.

A separate panel featured three former senior officials in the outgoing Obama administration: Martin Indyk, who was the administration's envoy to the last round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations; Michèle Flournoy, who was the under secretary of defense; and Rob Malley, who was Obama's senior Middle East adviser during the last two years of his presidency.

Indyk predicted that despite his election promise, Trump probably won't move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem anytime soon, because of the complicated regional implications such a move could create.

He also offered advice to Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser to the president, who Trump has said would be in charge of the Middle East peace process. "My advice to him is to take the time to listen to everyone, including the Palestinians."

Indyk added that "the alternatives to a two-state solution are not solutions; they are recipes for continued conflict."

Flournoy said that if the Trump administration would try, as Trump has said he would, to reach a wide-ranging deal with Russia on the different crisis zones in the Middle East, this could create opportunities but also challenges for Israel.

Such a deal, she added, could potentially "bring Iranian influence to Israel's northern border" in the Golan Heights. She also emphasized the importance of U.S. leadership in the Middle East and around the world, noting: "We don't have a choice of stepping back. To do that is to throw away any hope for a better future."

Malley warned against the Trump administration's intentions to examine designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. He said such an initiative could highly complicate U.S. policy in the region and endanger America's relationship with strategic allies, who might include parties affiliated with the Brotherhood in their governments.