By Ali Sawafta
JERICHO, West Bank (Reuters) – The US will not be presenting its long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan in the foreseeable future and instead seeks to unilaterally change the mandates for future proposals, a senior Palestinian official said on Saturday.
Feeling deeply skeptical about the Palestinians, Arab countries and analysts, Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian negotiator, said that the Trump government supports Israel in the key issues of the decades-long conflict and buries all opportunities for peace in the Middle East.
"I do not think they'll ever come up with a plan," Erekat said in an interview with Reuters in Jericho. "The whole world rejects their ideas and they are already implementing their plan by changing the way things are done," he said.
Doubts have been raised as to whether Trump's government can secure what he called the "ultimate deal" since December, when the US president recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital and moved the US embassy there.
Jerusalem is one of the main problems in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both sides claim it as capital. Trump's actions outraged the Palestinians who had boycotted Washington's peace efforts under the leadership of US President-in-law's son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
The US has also cut off assistance to the Palestinians and UNRWA – the US Agency for Palestinian Refugees – and shut down the PLO's Washington office, further angering the Palestinian leaders.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed on Tuesday the recent steps of the United States.
Erekat said it appears that the United States has accepted Israel's positions on other major issues of the conflict, not just Jerusalem, including the fate of millions of Palestinian refugees from wars in 1948 and the Israeli settlements that included the Palestinians see their future Independent state.
But Trump's close-embassy envoy Jason Greenblatt told Reuters that Washington was prepared for Israeli criticism of the plan and that both sides could expect parts they like and dislike. He provided no further details.
Greenblatt, a chief architect of the initiative, said US negotiators entered the plan's "pre-launch phase" despite the boycott of the Palestinian leaders but did not want to set a timeframe.
The Palestinians want to build a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and in East Jerusalem. Israel conquered these areas in the 1967 Middle East War and annexed East Jerusalem in a movement that was not internationally recognized. It regards the whole city as its eternal and indivisible capital.
So far, US officials have been unaware that their plan would support the creation of a Palestinian state next to the state of Israel – the goal of previous rounds of negotiations, the last of which collapsed in 2014.
"They tell us peace is based on the truth," Erekat said.
"The Kuzhni truth and the Netanyahu truth is that Jerusalem is Israel's capital, no right to return to refugees, settlements are legal, no Palestinian state is at 1967 (borders) and Gaza needs to be separated from the West Bank and that is totally unacceptable." Said Erekat.
Palestinians have limited self-government in the West Bank, but Israel controls most of that territory and has expanded its settlements there. Most countries consider settlements illegal, although Israel denies it. It withdrew its troops and settlers from Gaza, which is ruled by the Islamist Hamas movement.
"The only thing this government has done since taking office is just driving Israelis and Palestinians off the road to peace, on the road to the two-state solution," Erekat said.
(Writing by Maayan Lubell, edited by Maayan Lubell)