Tuesday 17 September 2019

Trump's peace plan for the Middle East may fail - Pompeo

Trying to manage expectations: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Photo: Reuters
Trying to manage expectations: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Photo: Reuters

John Hudson

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a sobering assessment of the prospects of the Trump administration's long-awaited Middle East peace plan in a closed-door meeting with Jewish leaders, saying "one might argue" that the plan is "unexecutable" and it might not "gain traction".

He expressed his hope that the deal isn't simply dismissed out of hand.

"It may be rejected. Could be in the end, folks will say: 'It's not particularly original, it doesn't particularly work for me', that is, 'it's got two good things and nine bad things, I'm out'," Mr Pompeo said in an audio recording of the private meeting obtained by 'The Washington Post'.

"The big question is, can we get enough space that we can have a real conversation about how to build this out," he said.

The remarks are the most unvarnished comments to date from a US official about what President Donald Trump has called the "deal of the century", an effort to resolve the intractable Israeli-Palestinian dispute he has entrusted to his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and former lawyer Jason Greenblatt. The unveiling of the plan has been repeatedly delayed, a point Mr Pompeo noted.

"This has taken us longer to roll out our plan than I had originally thought it might - to put it lightly," he said at a meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations, a New York-based group that addresses concerns to the Jewish community.

In trying to manage expectations, he said there are "no guarantees that we're the ones that unlock it", referring to the frozen conflict. "I hope everyone will engage in a serious way."

He also recognised the popular notion that the agreement will be one-sided in favour of the Israeli government.

"I get why people think this is going to be a deal that only the Israelis could love," he said. "I understand the perception of that. I hope everyone will just give the space to listen and let it settle in a little bit."

Since the US president announced plans to solve the decades-old conflict, the United States has taken a series of actions vehemently opposed by the Palestinians.

These include recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital without a final status agreement, cutting funding to the Palestinian Authority and the UN refugee agency that serves it, forcing their diplomatic office in Washington to close, and recognising Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

Two attendees said they left with the impression that Mr Pompeo was not optimistic that the plan would succeed.

"He was not in any way confident that the process would lead to a successful conclusion," said one of the attendees.

Both spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Elan Carr, the State Department's special envoy to fight anti-Semitism who also attended the meeting, expressed a different view, saying he thought Mr Pompeo "provided a hopeful assessment over the prospect of a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians".

"It was an excellent briefing that was very well received by the conference," he said in a statement offered by the State Department.

Aaron David Miller, a former negotiator and analyst on Middle East issues for Republican and Democratic administrations, said the remarks were "the most revealing and real assessment of the plan that I've heard so far".

"The fact that Pompeo so easily conceded the perception - and likely the reality - that the plan was strongly structured and tilted towards the Israelis is striking," Mr Miller said. (© Independent News Service)

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