White House: Mideast Peace Initiative Could Face 'Temporary Cooling Off,' but Still Moving Forward

Some sources in Trump's administration say that once talks resume, the president's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital will help achieve peace

White House senior advisers Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner sit behind U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, U.S. December 6, 2017.
White House senior advisers Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner sit behind U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, U.S. December 6, 2017.Credit: JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

In light of the strong statements from Palestinian officials about their lack of trust in the American administration as a fair mediator in the peace process, European diplomats who have been in touch lately with the Trump administration's peace team told Haaretz that they sense the Trump peace initiative is stuck.

The White House strongly denied these claims, stating that while a "temporary cooling off period" was possible, the Trump administration was still working on its peace plan, which enjoys strong support from the president.

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"We have said what we have said all along - the President remains as committed to peace as ever and we are not surprised by reactions which have the potential to result in a temporary cooling off period," a senior White House official told Haaretz, in response to claims made by the European diplomats, which the White House characterized as not accurate.

The official added that work on the peace plan is still moving forward: "In the meantime, we will remain hard at work putting together our plan, which will benefit the Israeli and Palestinian peoples."

The White House has been briefing the media ever since Trump's speech last week that the peace initiative could indeed go into a "cooling off period" but has nonetheless emphasized that the peace team, led by Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, sees this as a temporary development, and believes that the talks will be resumed.

Some sources in the administration have added that once talks are renewed, the president's statement on Jerusalem will in fact increase the chances for significant diplomatic progress.

Israeli and American officials said Thursday that Vice President Mike Pence's visit to Israel has been delayed by approximately 48 hours. The official reason for the delay is that Pence is staying in Washington to help pass the Republican tax reform, which is currently facing danger in the Senate, as some Republican lawmakers have expressed doubts about their ability to support it.

The new schedule following the delay will include Pence's touching down in Israel on Wednesday evening, and him visiting the Western Wall on the same day. After that, he is slated to make a speech at the Knesset and dine with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

On Thursday, a welcoming ceremony will be held in the vice president's honor at the premier's bureau in Jerusalem. On Friday, Pence will pay a visit to the President's Residence and visit Israel's Holocaust museum Yad Vashem.

Despite the fact that Pence is a devout Christian and his visit will take place a few days before Christmas, a visit to a church is not part of the trip's itinerary and church heads in Jerusalem did not receive any request to host Pence in one of the churches.

After President Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Palestinians rejected the meeting that was planned between Pence and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Senior Palestinian Authority official Jibril Rajoub said that "Pence is unwelcome in Palestine."

According to Rajoub, Pence asked to meet Abbas in Bethlehem, but the meeting will not take place.

Additionally, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said that Ramallah will look for a source that will take over for the U.S. in brokering the peace process with Israel. The White House said in response to the Palestinian refusal to engage with Pence that "It's unfortunate that the Palestinian Authority is walking away again from an opportunity to discuss the future of the region, but the administration remains undeterred in its efforts to help achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians and our peace team remains hard at work putting together a plan."

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