The new chief Palestinian envoy to the United States says authorities in the West Bank stand ready to be the “ultimate partners” in a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.
Speaking to media in Ramallah minutes before he was sworn in as the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO)’s chief representative in Washington on Tuesday, Dr Husam Zomlot said he had faith Trump would listen to both sides in any negotiations.
“There are sufficient signs he [Trump] is after the ultimate deal. My task is to explain we’re the ultimate power, that we have done sufficient investment to be the launchpad for that deal,” he said. “If President Trump seeks the ultimate deal, he needs to know we’re the ultimate partners. There will be no deal without us.”
Zomlot formally takes up his post in the U.S. on April 1, several months earlier than expected as the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) attempts to capitalize on Trump’s early interest in resolving the deteriorating situation in Israel.
Last month, Trump shocked Middle East experts by backing away from the U.S.’s 15-year commitment to a two-state solution, which would see a Palestinian state created between Israel and the River Jordan. Standing alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump declared he “he can live” with either a one or two state resolution.
The idea of a one-state solution is problematic because Palestinians fear they would not be treated equally and could suffer a form of apartheid with few rights and no citizenship. Similarly, Jewish Israelis worry they would be consistently outvoted by Israeli Arabs and Palestinians if full democracy was granted to those living on the West Bank and in Gaza, the coastal strip currently under the rule of the militant Hamas faction.
Trump’s early meeting with Netanyahu, who is trying to placate a vocal and increasingly powerful Israeli nationalist movement, worried Palestinians because they thought it signaled the U.S. would favor Israel under his presidency. He has also raised fears by choosing David Friedman as his ambassador to Israel, a pro-settlement hardliner who supports a controversial proposal to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.
However, Zomlot, who was previously strategic affairs adviser to P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas, believes Trump’s interest in what the President has called “the ultimate deal” means his administration would listen carefully to both sides — citing his background as a dealmaker and his appointment of son-in-law Jared Kushner — one of his closest confidantes — as a senior White House adviser on the Middle East.
Zomlot indicated Trump could bring greater impetus to a peace process that has badly stalled. “I believe Trump, that he wants a deal… the ultimate deal. We believe that through the trajectory of his career, beliefs and tendencies … There is sufficient indication of this from his previous incarnation as a businessman, his book [The Art of the Deal, published in 1987], and, before he was even inaugurated, appointing his son-in-law.”
The Palestinian envoy said Trump is “right” that there are only two “boxes” — the options of a one or two state solution — available for long-term peace. “There is no third box unless that is to accommodate and manage the status quo, but the status quo is not sustainable,” he argued. He was speaking to a small group of British journalists in a roundtable organized by BICOM, the Britain Israel Communications & Research Centre.
Zomlot’s move to Washington in a role that the Palestinians describe as “ambassador” represents something of a rebranding for the P.A. At 43, he is significantly younger than most of the Fatah politicians who run the P.A., while he has a notably western background. Zomlot was educated at the London School of Economics and still owns an apartment in the northwest of the U.K. capital where there is strong Jewish representation.
He hopes these distinctive characteristics will help him make waves on Capitol Hill and in the State Department. “When I go to Washington I want to explain that, firstly, there is a new game in town,” he said, ” and secondly, there is an assertive voice of reason.”
The hardline militants of Hamas are overseeing a desperate state of affairs in Gaza, which is badly struggling from water and electricity shortages and extremely high levels of unemployment. The United Nations has warned Gaza will be uninhabitable by 2020.
A truce between the Fatah and Hamas factions appears unlikely any time soon, but Zomlot warned that time is running out to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians while Gaza residents suffer. He said: “While we are looking for a solution, Gaza is melting physically, metaphorically.”