Diplomacy

Fmr. Mideast Envoy Dennis Ross: Trump Must Urge Abbas to Stop Paying Terrorists

A former Middle East negotiator who served both Democratic and Republican administrations said that President Donald Trump must urge Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during their meeting on Wednesday to stop paying salaries to convicted terrorists.

In a conference call organized by The Israel Project, which publishes The Tower, Dennis Ross said that as long as the PA continues to provide a financial incentive for terrorism, “it’s very hard to say that there’s a serious interest in actually negotiating peace; more than that, living in peace and co-existence.”

Ross explained that although Trump acknowledges that there are differences between Israel and the Palestinians that hamper reconciliation efforts, he believes “that ultimately those differences shouldn’t prevent a deal.”

The former envoy added that Trump gave Abbas a boost by arranging the meeting, thereby bolstering the Palestinian leader’s diminished importance in the Middle East. Abbas has alienated several Arab leaders in recent years, including Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Jordan’s King Abdullah, and leaders of various Gulf States, Ross noted. After Trump expressed interest in working with Abbas, both Sisi and Abdullah also agreed to meet with him.

Abbas similarly appears interested in working with Trump and told a Japanese paper that he’d meet with Netanyahu under Trump’s auspices. While Ross discouraged the leaders from meeting without an explicit purpose, he noted that Abbas “doesn’t really want to say ‘no'” to Trump. In contrast, Abbas boasted in Palestinian media that he rejected overtures from Obama 12 times, Ross noted.

For there to be progress in peace talks, “it can’t be that only Israel is the one to take steps are hard,” Ross asserted. Towards that end, he said that Trump should use his leverage with Abbas to ask “him to take steps that will be difficult for him as well.”

Ross discouraged efforts to look for a big peace deal, because if such an initiative was pursued and failed, “it would just feed the cynicism and disbelief and it reduces even more any hope that anything can ever be done.” Rather, he recommended looking “to create some moves on the ground by both sides that demonstrate that they’re serious about wanting to do something in peace, demonstrate they’re serious about two states for two peoples.”

Regarding what the Palestinians could do, Ross said:

There was a foundation for martyrs that was set up whose purpose was to pay the families of those who were killed while trying to kill or succeeded in killing Israelis. There is a provision as well to pay for those who are put in Israeli jails for having carried out acts of violence against Israelis. … The problem with that is what it does is it rewards attacks against Israelis. It doesn’t discredit them but does just the opposite.

However, rather than publicly demanding that Abbas end the practice, Ross called on Trump to frame it as a compromise necessary to prove Abbas’ willingness “to move towards finalizing an end to this conflict.”

A complete recording of the call is embedded below.

[Photo: Uri Lenz / FLASH90 ]