Exclusive: Trump tempts Palestinians back to talks with $5b carrot

Mahmoud Abbas, Donald Trump  photo: Kevin Lamarque, Reuters

After a series of unprecedented aid cuts, the US administration is offering the Palestinian leadership a way back.

The US is offering the Palestinian Authority $5 billion to return to the negotiating table with Israel to achieve a solution to the conflict, according to information obtained by "Globes" from US sources.

US President Donald Trump is a businessperson, which could explain his frequent use of the economic weapon in negotiations and political conflicts. No one knows this better than the Palestinians now, after Washington cut more than $500 million in assistance for them: $200 million from foreign aid, $300 million from the budget for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), and tens of millions more from aid for Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem.

The series of cuts, together with the closure of the Palestine Liberation Front's (PLO) offices in Washington, put the Palestinians into a state of shock. There have been threats of US cuts in the past, but they were never translated into action. In addition to the chain of condemnations and calls for aid from the Arab world and everyone else, the Palestinians are now looking frantically for money to make up the gap in their budget, in the knowledge that the cuts will continue, as they have been warned by the US Department of State.

Now that the US has hit the Palestinians' soft underbelly, however, they are extending the carrot, or at least a potential carrot, in the form of especially generous economic aid, conditional on a return to the negotiating table to find a solution for the Israel-Palestinian  conflict.

According to information given to "Globes" by US diplomatic sources, State Department employees dealing with the Palestinian issue managed to convinced Trump through his two envoys to the region, Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, to offer the Palestinians a way of out of the impasse. According to the diplomats, Trump approved the concept and the amount of the budget - $5 billion from the administration and a similar amount from the European Union and the Persian Gulf states.

This figure was not determined arbitrarily. It is based on the Palestinian Authority's reconstruction and economic development program - plans that have been discussed in various international forums, and which Israel played a key role in shaping.

Despite the reciprocal attacks and apparent rift, the administration is maintaining contact with senior Palestinian leaders, some of whom occupy official positions, such as Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, and others who have no official status. These connections were used to deliver a message, which the US diplomats said was not presented as an ultimatum. The message included a detailed timetable for beginning negotiations, together with an international conference of the donor countries to begin planning the transfer of money, most of which is earmarked for infrastructure and creating and economic foundation for an almost independent Palestinian economy.

The message is clear, a US officeholder involved in the process told "Globes": either the Palestinians continue their refusal and stubbornness, in which case the PA will sink into a severe economic crisis, or the Palestinian leadership straightens up, comes to talk, and gets political and economic independence. The president is willing to give more than the amount mentioned for a solution, and believes that the economic way, the business approach, will result in one.

Senior Israeli sources confirmed that information on the US proposal has also reached Jerusalem and confirm the administration's willingness to invest larger sums than in the past in order to ensure the deal's success. At the same time, the sources expressed doubt about the deal's feasibility in the Mahmoud Abbas era. They said that the PA chairperson had climbed too high up the tree, and would torpedo any such effort. The other leaders, many of whom dislike the attitude taken by Abbas to Trump, will therefore prefer to wait.

Still, according to the US sources, the US is for the first time mentioning a specific sum - willingness to provide aid on a huge scale and a blueprint for implementation for the Palestinians. The pessimists will quote Abba Eban, one of Israel's most prominent foreign ministers, who said, "The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity." The optimists will hope that Abbas is succeeded by a more sober leadership.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on September 13, 2018

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2018

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Mahmoud Abbas, Donald Trump  photo: Kevin Lamarque, Reuters
Mahmoud Abbas, Donald Trump photo: Kevin Lamarque, Reuters
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