Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet debated offering Palestinians a series of economic incentives for reviving peace talks as they waited for U.S. President Donald Trump to arrive and reveal his plans for addressing the Middle East conflict.
Netanyahu opened the meeting Sunday with the message that Israel would welcome the American leader “with open arms,” while discussions would focus on strengthening security ties and “how to advance peace,” according to an emailed statement. Trump is coming to Israel after two days in Saudi Arabia, where he signed multi-billion dollar deals in defense, energy and infrastructure, and urged Muslim leaders to combat terrorism.
By nightfall Sunday, the Israeli cabinet was still discussing whether to follow up with a package of steps that would include easing travel between the West Bank and Jordan, developing more job-producing industrial zones, and boosting the quantity of goods flowing into the Gaza Strip. Members of Netanyahu’s coalition government have expressed their concerns that entering new peace talks would force Israel to give up territory and curtail construction in West Bank settlements.
“The Trump administration is focused on materially enhancing the quality of life and the economy for the Palestinians,” Michael Oren, a parliament member who works as an adviser at the prime minister’s office, said in an interview. “They don’t see economic peace as a substitute for real peace, but they see it as setting an agenda that would make conditions conducive toward peace.”
Palestinians were also preparing for Trump’s visit to Bethlehem on Tuesday, where he’s due after meeting Netanyahu in Jerusalem. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to greet Trump with a bagpipe-playing color guard and deliver assurances that his people want peace.
With Trump on the way, Palestinian groups across the political spectrum, including members of Abbas’s Fatah party, called for a “Day of Rage” in support of hundreds of prisoners carrying out a hunger strike in Israeli prisons.
Palestinian security officers will be out in force to make sure the president isn’t harmed, Abbas’s office said.
Abbas, known by his nickname Abu Mazen, is ready return to the negotiating table with Israel, largely because the Gulf Arab states that have supported the Palestinians for seven decades are running out of patience, said Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at Al-Azhar University in Gaza City.
“Abu Mazen has realized that the Arab countries are so tired of this issue and more focused on other problems, like the threat from Iran,” he said. “They’re not willing to wait forever.”
White House Invitation
Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon met with his Palestinian counterpart Shukri Bishara last week as part of efforts to come up with economic measures aimed at helping the Palestinians.
Trump has cultivated Abbas recently by inviting him to the White House, adding him to the Mideast trip’s itinerary, and playing down early signals that he would move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, said Nimrod Novik, a longtime strategist for Israeli politicians and corporate executives.
“In the right context, the same deflated and passive Abu Mazen could look like Popeye after he eats the spinach,” said Novik, now Israel fellow for the New York-based Israel Policy Forum.
On the other hand, Trump “may not be willing to spend the amount of political capital needed to get the deal done,” Novik said. “Once he bumps into early difficulties, he may walk away.”