By Samir Salama
April 07, 2019
US President Donald Trump has made no
effort to study the current situation and the needs and interests of Israel and
the Palestinians. He is deeply distrusted by the Palestinians because of his
unilateral steps against their interests, a former senior US diplomat said.
Stuart Eizenstat, former US ambassador to
the European Union, told Gulf News in an exclusive interview that by supporting
Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, it makes it more difficult for the
Arab states to support a US peace plan.
Eizenstat served under presidents Lyndon
Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, serving as chief White House domestic
policy adviser, US ambassador, undersecretary of Commerce for International
Trade, as well as numerous other key positions.
During his current trip to the UAE,
Eizenstat will give talks at the NYU Abu Dhabi and the American University of
Sharjah. He will discuss his career in politics, law and his new book President
Carter: The White House Years, which has received glowing reviews from various
publications including the Washington Post and the New York Times.
Excerpts from the interview:
US President Donald Trump claims he can
strike the “deal of the century” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He
contends that old methods have not worked, that only new approaches can provide
a breakthrough. But while his use of business executives and lawyers rather
than seasoned diplomats with regional know-how is novel, his plan is not. In
fact, it perpetuates the very problem that has long undermined US pursuit of
peace in the Middle East: not involving Palestinians in the discussion. Your
As I describe in my new book, President
Carter: The White House Years, there were several reasons President Carter was
successful in the Camp David Accords and the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty which do
not exist today. President Carter directly involved himself by studying the
history of the conflict, understanding Prime Minister Begin and President
Sadat, their backgrounds and their interests; in earning the trust of both
None of these factors exists today.
President Trump has made no effort to study the situation today and the needs
and interest of both Israel and the Palestinians. He is deeply distrusted by
the Palestinians because he has taken unilateral steps against their interests:
for example, cutting off their economic assistance; moving the US Embassy to
[occupied] Jerusalem without seeking any concessions from Israel and without a
simultaneous statement by the US that the Trump administration supports a
two-state solution and looks forward to having a US Embassy in a Palestinian
Moreover, Jared Kushner and Jason
Greenblatt, the two leaders of the Trump Administration’s Middle East peace
process, have been seeking broad Arab support for their eventual plan. But by
his recent decision to recognise Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights,
President Trump has made it exceedingly difficult to obtain backing for the
plan, however sound it may be. At the same time, it must be admitted that the
Palestinian leadership has refused to sit down and negotiate a solution.
Moreover, in the year 2000 through Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and in
2008 under Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the Palestinian National
Authority rejected Israel’s offer to return 95 per cent of the West Bank,
accept East Jerusalem as the capital of a new Palestinian state, and to allow
the return of tens of thousands of Palestinians to Israel.
Trump has once again displayed a
reckless disregard for international laws by announcing that the US should
recognise Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights. In doing so, the
US president has made his boastful pledge that he will deliver the “deal of the
century” to end the Arab-Israeli conflict seem even more preposterous. How can
the US command respect in the Arab world when its leader is seen to break
Without commenting on international law, by
supporting Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, it makes it much more
difficult for the Arab states to support a US peace plan. Both the Arab states
and Israel must trust the US government to understand and respect its national
Trump appears to believe he can ride
roughshod over international conventions. He previously ignored the warnings of
Washington’s Arab and European allies and reversed seven decades of US policy
by recognising occupied Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moving the
American embassy there. That severely undermined one of the three core issues
at the heart of the Middle East conflict — the status of the disputed holy
city. Now the US president has undermined a second — the return of occupied
lands. There are concerns that he plans to act on the third — the right of
return for Palestinian refugees. How would you assess analysts’ argument that
this is utterly irresponsible, and risks stoking more extremism and instability
in the region and that Trump’s actions are fodder for Iran and militant groups
such as Hezbollah and Hamas?
I doubt he will deal with the Palestinian
refugees’ return to Israel. I do not think after all these decades; it is
realistic for most of the refugees to be able to return to Israel en masse. But
this should be left to the parties to negotiate, without the US taking the side
of one of the parties.
Even Arab leaders who loathe Bashar Al
Assad, the Syrian leader, and prioritise Trump’s belligerent stance against
Iran over the plight of Palestinians cannot be seen to be endorsing the
handover of Arab lands to Israel. Your comment?
As I have noted, the US must be seen as a
fair mediator for to both sides — understanding Israel’s security requirements
and Palestinian aspirations for statehood.
Will Trump’s Middle East peace plan help
Netanyahu win the election and avert prison?
I do not believe there will be a peace plan
unveiled before the Israeli elections.
After Trump’s actions on Jerusalem and
Golan, can Washington still be looked at as an honest Middle East peace broker?
These unilateral actions make it more
difficult for the Trump administration to be seen as the honest broker for a
Does Trump’s erratic Middle East policy
— consisting only of chastising Iran, cosying up to Israel’s right wing government,
and luring petrodollars from the Gulf — add up to a sound strategy?
I do not accept your categorisation of the
Trump Administration’s policy, although, as I have indicated, it has not yet
earned the trust of both sides.