Is Monday’s New York Times article “Talk of a Peace Plan That Snubs Palestinians Roils Middle East” an accurate account of a recent meeting between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Palestinian Authority (PA) head Mahmoud Abbas?
The article claims that Salman presented the document that Palestinians say is “more tilted toward the Israelis than any ever embraced by an American government.” Some details include: a Palestinian state but only in non-contiguous parts of Judea and Samaria; most Israeli “settlements” remain in Judea and Samaria; the eastern portion of Jerusalem will not be given to the Palestinians for their capital, which would instead be set up in the nearby town of Abu Dis; and no right of return for Palestinian “refugees” or their dependents.
“The article is about 60 percent accurate,” former AIPAC official Lenny Ben-David, who told World Israel News (WIN), “The Trump administration wants to break down the Oslo paragon and get away from the idea of an Israeli return to the pre-1967 lines.”
Saudis and US: Palestinians not the center of the world
Ben-David explained that while Trump has told Israelis to go slow on settlements because the US plan does include an Israeli withdrawal from some of the territories, it also leaves the settlement blocs in place. “This is just an opening plan, and there must be Israeli sacrifices,” said Ben-David, adding, “Washington and now the Saudis have explained to the Palestinians that they are not the center of the world, and cannot realize all their demands.”
An Israeli with deep ties to the Palestinian leadership doubts the entire story. Dr. Gershon Baskin, co-founder of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, told WIN, “I don’t believe the New York Times report is accurate.”
According to Baskin, the Saudis continue to support a Palestinian state that includes all of Judea, Samaria and Gaza, with the eastern portion of Jerusalem as its capital.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior Israeli diplomat currently on leave told WIN, “The Americans are nuts if they think this plan will get off the ground. It’s as if Likud were to take over the White House and come up with a peace plan in the Americans’ name.” The unnamed source adds, “It’s as crazy as the president himself.”
The White House itself was quick to insist that the Times article was inaccurate on details of the US peace plan. Instead, Washington says that plan is still months away from being finalized. The Saudi government issued a denial saying that it does not endorse elements of the plan that were included in the report. Saudi Ambassador to the US Prince Khalid bin Salman issued a statement reading, “The Kingdom remains committed to a settlement based on the Arab peace initiative of 2002, including East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders. To suggest otherwise is false.”
The authors of the US proposal are remaining tight lipped. Making a rare statement Sunday at the Saban Forum in Washington, its author, Trump’s advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner, gave away little, saying, “We know what’s in the plan, the Palestinians know what discussions we’ve had with them. The Israelis know what discussions we’ve had with them.”
Palestinian reaction to elements of the plan cited by the Times have been predictable, with representatives of Fatah and Hamas using words like “insulting” and “unacceptable.” The Times report quotes senior Hamas official Hassan Yousef as saying, “If the Palestinian leadership were to accept any of the above, the Palestinian people would not let them remain.” According to the Times, the Saudis warned Abbas, “If he would not accept the terms, he would be pressed to resign to make way for a replacement who would.”
Meanwhile, Abbas is distancing himself from the Times report. A PA spokesman described published details of the peace plan as “fake news that does not exist,” and said they will have more to say when they receive the official proposal from the United States.
Saudis plan to normalize relations with Israel
What the Saudis made clear was their view that confronting Iran, and not the Palestinian-Israeli issue, is currently at the center of Arab politics. The Saudis also want it known that they plan to normalize relations with Israel. Some experts’ think that the Saudis have tweaked the US plan to suit their own world view.
Arab affairs expert Pinchas Inbari from the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs told WIN, “The Saudis have long preferred that Jerusalem not be the Palestinian capital because it takes away from Mecca as the holiest city for Islam.” Inbari explained that he heard different details from the Palestinians than what was presented in the Times article, but he does not dispute that the Palestinians are very unhappy with what they have been told about the Trump plan.
Middle East expert Amotz Asa-El, a senior editor at the Jerusalem Report, told WIN, “The Saudis are clearly demonstrating that their interests center on the Iranian danger and they are showing growing disinterest on the Palestinian issue. Apparently, the details presented to the Palestinians by the Saudis were accurate in presenting a world view, but were not necessarily a true reflection of the details in the Trump Middle East peace plan.”