Top Palestinian diplomat: New approach needed for peace deal

Top Palestinian diplomat: New approach needed for peace deal
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A top Palestinian diplomat is warning that a recent rash of violence across Israel won’t be halted without addressing the underlying source of Israeli-Palestinian tensions — a solution that appears to be far off.

Ahead of Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryWarren, Buttigieg fight echoes 2004 campaign, serves as warning for 2020 race Krystal Ball: New Biden ad is everything that's wrong with Democrats The Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats worry about diversity on next debate stage MORE’s impending meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Ambassador Maen Rashid Areikat appeared to downplay chances of a major breakthrough.


Instead, he told The Hill in an interview on Monday that significant peace could only be achieved through a “new approach” including the U.S. as just one mediator among many.

“The secretary of State is genuine about his efforts to deescalate the situation,” said Areikat, the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s representative to the U.S.

“However, if we are looking for temporary fixes, short-term fixes, waiting for the next round to start, this is going to be a futile approach to resolving the tension,” he added.

“You should remain focused on the larger picture here,” Areikat said. “We need to be focused on the fact that the continued Israeli military occupation … does create the conditions conducive for unrest and for violence. People are simply fed up with the Israeli military occupation.”

The comments indicate little optimism that the U.S. will be able to step in and immediately halt the growing violence, which has so far led to the reported killing of at least 40 Palestinians and nine Israelis. According to Israel, 20 of those Palestinians were killed in the course of attacking Israeli civilians and soldiers.

On Sunday, a Bedouin man shot and killed an Israeli soldier at a bus station in southern Israel before stealing his gun and injuring at least nine people by spraying bullets into the crowd. The attacker and another man — an Eritrean migrant apparently mistaken as a second gunman — were killed in response.

In the Monday interview from his light-filled office, Areikat insisted that Palestinian leaders want supporters to object to Israel peacefully but that they cannot control Palestinians’ outrage. 

“I cannot tell you it would be easy to control what an 18-year-old man or a 20-year-old man can or cannot do,” he said. “This is the same everywhere.

“But definitely, definitely we are not fanning [the flames].”

Kerry is planning to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Germany this week, with the hopes of restoring calm. Later, Kerry will meet with Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, likely in Jordan.

“I don’t have specific expectations except to try to move things forward,” Kerry said on Monday. 

At least for now, a broader peace agreement seems to be off the table. After the breakdown of U.S.-mediated peace talks last year, the odds of new progress appear dim. 

“I think it’s going to be up to the parties — and we stand ready to assist — to see if they can restart a more constructive relationship,” President Obama said during a White House press conference last week. “But in the meantime, right now, everybody needs to focus on making sure that innocent people aren’t being killed.

“I don’t think we can wait for all the issues that exist between Israelis and Palestinians to be settled in order for us to try to tamp down the violence right now,” he added.

In the short term, Areikat warned the U.S. against trying to play mediator between the two peoples, since the tactic has repeatedly failed in the past.

“They will start to change to try to accommodate and tailor things to what Israel can accept and cannot accept,” he said.

Instead, Areikat proposed that a broader coalition of nations step in, such as the United Nations, the European Union, Russia and Arab countries including Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

“What the United States needs to do is forget this bilateral process completely,” he said on Monday. “For 22 years we have tried bilaterally with U.S. sponsorship to resolve the conflict, and where did it leave us all?

“This bilateral process did not produce the desired results.”

The newest bloodshed has prompted fears about a third intifada, or uprising, following a string of violence in both 1987 and 2000, which killed thousands.  

Attacks this month stem in large part from Palestinian concerns that Israeli officials are preparing to limit access to the Al-Aqsa mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam. The mosque complex is situated in Jerusalem’s Old City on what is known to Jews as the Temple Mount, which is also deeply important in both Judaism and Christianity.

Netanyahu has said that he intends on keeping the status quo at the holy sites, though many watchers have remained unconvinced.  

“What we need is clarity,”
Kerry said on Monday.

“Israel understands the importance of that status quo, and I think what is necessary perhaps — which is why diplomacy sometimes enters into this — is to make sure that everybody understands what that means, that there is clarity as to what the expectations are,” he added.

The best hope for peace in the short-term, Areikat said on Monday, is for Netanyahu to clearly reaffirm that nothing will change.

“He has to announce publicly that he is committed to stopping these efforts and to keeping that status quo at Al-Aqsa mosque,” he said.

“We do not take what Netanyahu and his government say at face value.”