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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Imminent release of US peace plan seen as highly unlikely

Experts say current conditions are not favourable even if it were ready

The status of Jerusalem is one of many to be resolved in any Middle East peace plan. AFP
The status of Jerusalem is one of many to be resolved in any Middle East peace plan. AFP

Talk of an imminent release of the US plan for peace between Israelis and Palestinians is “premature”, a senior Arab diplomatic source in Washington told The National, while experts questioned whether the conditions were right.

A team led by special envoy Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's adviser and son-in-law, have been preparing the US plan for more than a year. The news website Axios reported on Monday that Mr Trump “will hold a crucial meeting this week with his top national security and foreign policy advisers” on the issue and would like the document to be released “sometime between December and February”.

But the diplomatic source, who has met with the peace team in Washington, said the release of the document and its final content had not been decided.

Neither the White House nor the State Department were available for comment when contacted by The National.

The administration has been holding meetings on the issue since last week. Under Secretary of State David Hale held a closed meeting with Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer on Monday. Last week King Abdullah of Jordan visited Washington and held talks with the administration.

Experts and former US officials were dubious about releasing the plan anytime soon.

Robert Danin, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and former State Department and White House official, said it would be a mistake to publish the plan under current conditions.

“It is a mistake to roll out a plan when conditions are so inauspicious, and without the buy-in of one of the two key negotiating partners, which is clearly the case right now,” he told The National.

The US and the Palestinian Authority are not even communicating, Mr Danin said, adding that it was better “to keep open the prospect of a future peace initiative and help prepare the parties for it, than to expend precious diplomatic capital with virtually no prospect of a pay-off”.

He said that an ill-timed release of the plan might backfire. “It will further erode faith among Israelis and Palestinians, and throughout the Middle East, in the possibilities for a negotiated end to the conflict. Second, it will strengthen rejectionists, hardliners, and one-staters, who argue that peace is impossible.”

Ghaith Al Omari, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, expected key Arab partners such as Jordan to urge caution and delay the release of the plan.

“Given the complicated situation among the Palestinians and the Israelis, as well as in the region overall, Jordan would probably prefer that the plan is not released anytime soon,” Mr Al Omari told The National.

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While reports on the plan release have been surfacing since September last year, Mr Al Omari did not expect it to be released soon. “There are no indications that it will. The political situation among the parties is not ripe, and there is no regional bandwidth. Moreover, we are not seeing any signs that the administration is gearing up for a roll-out.”

Israel faces the possibility of early elections and the Palestinian house remains split between the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and a defiant Hamas in Gaza. Regionally, Saudi King Salman said on Monday that “Palestine remains our number one cause until the Palestinian people acquire all their legitimate rights.”

Matthew Brodsky of the Security Studies group was also sceptical that the US plan would be released soon. “I have lost track of the amount of times we've been told that the release of the plan is imminent,” Mr Brodsky told The National.

“They [the White House] are right to tread lightly and hold off on releasing it if Israel goes to early elections” he said, adding that a centrist government led by Benjamin Netanyahu after elections could boost the plan’s chances. “In the end, the Trump administration can't keep saying that it's about to release the peace plan and expect anyone to get excited,” Mr Brodsky said.