Report: Netanyahu, White House Working to Drive Wedge Between Palestinians and Gulf States

The New Yorker describes tense relationship between Trump administration and PA, which has deteriorated ever since Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem

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U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House, March 5, 2018.
U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House, March 5, 2018.Credit: \ KEVIN LAMARQUE/ REUTERS

WASHINGTON - The Trump administration is working with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to create a rift between the Gulf states and the Palestinians, according to a wide-ranging report on Trump's Middle East policy that was published on Monday in The New Yorker

The report says that the Trump administration's peace plan, which will likely be much closer to the Israeli government's positions than previous U.S. peace plans, could be used by Netanyahu to divide the Gulf monarchies and the Palestinians. 

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Netanyahu, according to the report, expects the Palestinians to reject Trump's plan, thus creating an opening for the Gulf states to support it and distance themselves from the Palestinian leadership while inching closer towards Israel, with whom they share a common view of Iran as the main threat in the region. 

Read more: Netanyahu and UAE Reportedly Held Secret Meeting in Cyprus to Discuss Iran Nuclear Deal

According to the report, the Obama administration suspected that Netanyahu secretly met with leaders from the Gulf in 2015 in Cyprus, as part of an attempt to organize a joint strategy against the Iran nuclear deal. Netanyahu did visit Cyprus in 2015, but the report didn't include specific details on when exactly the meeting took place, or who attended it. The prime minister's presence at the meeting was suspected by the Obama administration, but never fully proven. 

The report described a tense relationship between the Trump administration and the Palestinian Authority, which has deteriorated into a total disconnect ever since Trump's decision last year to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. At some point, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, told veteran Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat "we're a sovereign nation, don't threaten us" when Erekat warned that Trump's decision to move the American embassy to Israel would end America's role as a mediator in the region.

According to the report, shortly before Trump announced the embassy decision, he called Abbas to inform him about it, but the call never came through because of technical problems. At one point, Trump thought Abbas was on the line, and he reportedly told the Palestinian leader that he (Trump) would get the Palestinians "a better deal" than what was offered to them under Obama. Abbas, however, wasn't actually on the phone at that moment. 

The report included excerpts from an email that Kushner sent to other senior administration officials regarding the decision to significantly cut funding to UNRWA. In the email Kushner boasts that "UNRWA has been threatening us for 6 months that if they don’t get a check they will close schools. Nothing has happened. We have made some big moves and everyone in the region is on their toes which is where they need to be for real change. Our goal can’t be to keep things stable and as they are, our goal has to be to make things significantly BETTER! Sometimes you have to strategically risk breaking things in order to get there.”

Another interesting bit of information in the report concerns Trump's ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, who had no prior diplomatic experience before taking the job last year, and was confirmed by the lowest number of Senators ever for an American ambassador to Israel. In the report, Friedman is quoted as wondering why Egypt can't take responsibility for Gaza, since "the people there are Egyptian." Egypt, it should be noted, gave up any territorial demands regarding Gaza forty years ago, as part of an American-brokered peace agreement with Israel. Friedman denied making the comment, which was reportedly heard by a number of State Department officials.