Palestinian negotiator hits Trump team's 'empty words' in peace talks

Palestinian negotiator hits Trump team's 'empty words' in peace talks
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A chief Palestinian negotiator called Monday for a commitment to the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, hitting the Trump administration over its "empty words" as White House senior adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerTrump steps up GOP charm offensive as impeachment looms UN pushes back on US reversal on Israeli settlements Pompeo announces Israeli settlements do not violate international law MORE pushes for peace talks in the region.

"We are committed to the two-state solution, not because the term is nice [but] because this is the only option," Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said in a speech during the J Street conference in Washington, D.C.

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"Live and let live. We are here to talk about peace. We mean meaningful, real peace, not the empty words we hear from the Trump peace team," he added.

Erekat’s speech came as Kushner, President TrumpDonald John TrumpWatergate prosecutor says that Sondland testimony was 'tipping point' for Trump In private moment with Trump, Justice Kennedy pushed for Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination: book Obama: 'Everybody needs to chill out' about differences between 2020 candidates MORE's son-in-law, met with the head of Israel’s Blue and White party, Benjamin Gantz, who is tasked with forming a government in less than a month to prevent Israelis from going to a third election. The development comes after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE failed to build a majority coalition.

The Trump administration has withheld endorsing a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the rollout of the political aspect of their peace plan has stalled with the failure of Israel’s political parties to establish a ruling government after an election in April and a second attempt in September.

Kushner and other members of the team tasked with crafting Israeli and Palestinian peace, including Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Deal on defense bill proves elusive | Hill, Holmes offer damaging testimony | Trump vows to block Navy from ousting officer from SEALs Hill, Holmes offer damaging impeachment testimony: Five takeaways Graham requests State Department documents on Bidens, Ukraine MORE, have alluded to a “vision” they believe will bring political and economic opportunities for the Palestinians. The economic portion of the plan, unveiled at a conference in Manama, Bahrain, in June, was criticized for the absence of Palestinian participation and little instruction on implementation absent a political solution.

Erekat, in his speech, said Palestinians don’t view the current U.S. administration as a partner for peace but reiterated that previous administrations had supported a two-state solution.

"They wanted me to come on my knees. I will not do that. We will not do that," Erekat said of the administration, adding, "We will not give up on making real genuine lasting comprehensive peace between Palestinians and Israelis."

Palestinian Authority representatives have refused to interact with the Trump administration for more than a year, responding to a cascade of administration choices that Palestinians view as imposing unilateral decisions on key issues related to the conflict, including moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem; ending funding for nearly all Palestinian programs; and closing the U.S. Consulate in east Jerusalem and the office of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the international representative body of Palestinians, in D.C.

The Palestinian Authority has also rejected American aid left over after the steep funding cuts by the Trump administration, such as for humanitarian organizations and security cooperation arrangements, following passage of the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act. The law was meant to open up the Palestinian Authority to be accountable in U.S. courts in cases brought forward by American victims of Palestinian terrorism.

Erekat further called for a Palestinian capital in east Jerusalem, not entirely rejected by the Trump administration in word, and said it can live next to an Israeli capital in west Jerusalem, leaving the city “open.”

“In this context of negotiations, there are formulas that can be found that will respect the interests and rights of all parties,” he said. “This includes Jerusalem, east Jerusalem, the capital of Palestine, west Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. But then it can be an open city the day after peace.”

Erekat reinforced the call that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are an impediment to peace and that it is wrong to charge those as anti-Semitic who oppose the policies of Netanyahu.

Erekat charged the Trump administration and the Netanyahu government with contributing to a rise in anti-Semitism.

"Religious extremists, such as the white supremacists, right-wing populists, have taken a prominent space in international politics. They want to undermine international law. They go against international consensus." Erekat said. "This has been the agenda of this U.S. peace team, that of Benjamin Netanyahu and others."

He continued by calling out a rise in anti-Semitism but warned against criticizing those who speak out against growing Israeli expansion of settlements in the West Bank.

“With those extremist views, we have also seen a rise in anti-Semitism, in the new definition of anti-Semitism. Let me be very clear. Anti-Semitism is evil. Anti-occupation is noble. And those who are trying to mix between the two are determined to defeat us,” he added. 

An estimated 4,000 people are attending the conference for J Street, a pro-Israel organization that focuses on elevating Palestinian rights and sees self-determination as critical in ensuring Israel’s sovereignty as a Jewish state.

“Let's not give up. Let's not give those elements on both sides who want to undermine the future, peaceful future,” Erekat said. “Peace for us and Israelis is about being normal.”