Palestinian Ambassador to U.S.: We Had Hopes for Trump but He Backstabbed Us

Husam Zomlot says Palestinians' relationship with Trump was 'very promising' - until the president’s recognition of Jerusalem

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on as President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting at the World Economic Forum, Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018, in Davos. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Evan Vucci/AP

WASHINGTON - The Palestinian Ambassador to Washington Husam Zomlot harshly criticized the Trump administration on Thursday for “backstabbing” the Palestinians and “reneging their own promises” on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

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Speaking at the Washington-based Middle East Institute, Zomlot responded to Trump’s statement about “taking Jerusalem off the table” by telling the American president: “You didn’t take Jerusalem off the table – you took away the whole table. No Palestinian will sit at it.”

>> Trump says Jerusalem 'off the table,' threatens to pull aid to Palestinians if they don't pursue peace >> Palestinians respond to Trump: If Jerusalem off table, then U.S. no longer has seat at the table <<

Zomlot, who was posted in Washington in mid-2017 after serving as a senior adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said that if the Palestinians don’t see a way forward toward a two-state solution, they will begin “a movement toward a one-state arrangement with equal rights for everyone.”

Zomlot also denied that the Trump administration ever presented the Palestinians with a peace plan. “There wasn’t anything substantial,” he said.

Commenting on Trump’s continued position that the United States will accept a two-state solution “if the two sides agree,” Zomlot said “this means, if Netanyahu will accept it. We want the two-state solution.”

Zomlot spoke at length about the history of Palestinian engagement with the Trump administration. He said that the relationship between the two sides was “very promising” for most of the first year of the Trump presidency, until the president’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December. He said that Abbas had three “very good” meetings with Trump during the previous year, and that the American president gave the Palestinian leadership hope because of his devotion to reaching a peace agreement.

According to Zomlot, Trump told Abbas that he “had been watching this conflict ever since he was a child,” and said he was completely committed to solving it by acting as “a fair mediator” between Israel and the Palestinians. “It was to our absolute positive surprise,” Zomlot said. “All our statements toward the administration until December 6th [the date of Trump’s Jerusalem declaration] were positive. Despite all our concerns, we saw this administration as an opportunity.”

Zomlot added that “Trump and his team promised us that they are the ones who will bring peace.” The Palestinian leadership, he explained, decided to continue engaging with the Trump administration despite the fact that Trump refused to publicly express support for a two-state solution. ”We said, ‘let’s wait another month, or two months, or five months.’ They said they don’t want to impose anything.” He said that down the line, the Palestinians thought they would be able to convince the U.S. administration about the two-state solution.

Trump’s speech on Jerusalem, Zomlot said, “was the good-bye kiss” to the peace process. He described it as an act of “backstabbing” and said it contradicted the administration’s previous promises not to impose terms on the two sides. “You say you don’t want to dictate, you don’t want to tell the sides what to do, and then you come and decide to take the core, the ‘mother of all issues’, and act unilaterally?” the Palestinian ambassador asked.

Zomlot said sarcastically that the Trump administration’s intention to cut UNRWA funding could be presented as “taking the refugee issue off the table.” He added that the cuts will not affect the Palestinians’ demand for independence and statehood. “Our rights are not for sale,” he said. “Money does not work when it comes to national and human rights.” He said that if the Palestinian people “will have to starve” because of the Trump administration’s pressure to give up their rights, “it will only aggregate our dignity and our respect for ourselves.”

Despite the harsh language he used toward the administration, Zomlot said Abbas has instructed him to “double down” on reaching out to the American public. “Things are changing in this country,” he said. “Netanyahu can go and speak in Congress, but can he go and speak at a University in California or Wisconsin?”

Zomlot said the Palestinians will expand their efforts to make contacts in Congress and present their case to the American public. He added that they will also try to work more closely with the Israeli peace camp as part of their realization that “the current right-wing government is not a partner.”