Will Trump launch Mideast shuttle diplomacy?

Al Monitor| Uri Savir: Following the May 3 meeting between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and US President Donald Trump, the Palestinian leadership expects US shuttle diplomacy to be launched in June on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Abbas received the red carpet treatment in Washington, and Trump showed public warmth toward him and even praised him for the Oslo Accord. More so, Abbas was encouraged by the content of his meeting in the Oval Office.

Still, a senior PLO official close to Abbas told Al-Monitor that despite the positive impressions of his meeting with Trump, Abbas came back to Ramallah with more questions than answers. Abbas’ entourage believes that their strategy to embrace Trump and take him at his word on the ultimate deal will actually bear fruit. The analysis in Ramallah is that the Trump administration has decided to explore the possibility of starting a peace process in the months to come. They estimate that during his May 20 visit to the region, Trump will balance his pro-Israel attitude with a rapprochement to some of the Arab positions. What remains open is his real intent beyond launching a peace process, and if he himself will engage in negotiations.

The Palestinians know that Trump works closely with his son-in-law Jared Kushner, international negotiations envoy Jason Greenblatt, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. As to the May 20 trip, Abbas is encouraged by the fact that Trump’s first visit as president is to Saudi Arabia, and that in this first visit abroad the president also plans to visit the Palestinian Authority. This seems especially encouraging with a president who was considered — upon taking office — as holding views close to those of the Israeli pro-settlement Habayit HaYehudi party and as being Islamophobic in his values.

Based on Abbas’ Washington meetings, Ramallah believes that the aims of Trump’s regional visit are multiple. The US president wants to appear to be a man of peace. Visiting Riyadh, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and the Vatican is designed to reflect an image of global peacemaker in the face of radical fundamentalist Islam. Ramallah also believes that Trump wants to fortify the anti-Islamic State coalition with the pragmatic Arab states, primarily Egypt and Jordan. He wants to signal strong opposition to Iran in relation to its regional ambitions, arms development and sponsorship of terror. Following that line, Trump wants to signal to the American Jewish community his resolute commitment to Israel’s security. The Palestinians assume that Trump will leave the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, but may offer recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. In addition, Ramallah estimates that Trump intends to accept the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 as one of the bases for a regional initiative on Israeli-Palestinian peace.

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