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Former Deputy Nat’l Security Advisor: Trump Administration Unhappy with Abbas Behavior

Ahead of the UN General Assembly and the meeting between United States President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, The Israel Project (TIP) organized a conference call with Elliott Abrams on September 14  discussed some of the issues that would dominate the agenda.

Abrams, who served as deputy national security advisor to U.S. President George W. Bush, told the audience that he did not expect any movement on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

“I do not see a basis for optimism in 2017,” he said. “They [the Trump administration] are now fully familiar with the details and with the reasons that previous efforts — by everyone from Bill Clinton on — have failed.”

Abrams felt people in the administration “were quite unhappy with the behavior of Mahmoud Abbas during the Temple Mount incident, where he could have spoken in ways that would have ended the crisis. Instead his rhetoric was hot,” he said. He also added that Abbas “made it worse rather than better” and his behavior “really changed their [the Trump administration’s] opinion of him.”

Abrams also noted, however, that there are things that could be done to revive the peace process, especially through “economic and security cooperation.” But he also said he cannot see “how to go beyond that to the fundamentals of the conflict” like the status of Jerusalem. He praised Prime Minister Netanyahu’s efforts over the years to make concessions for peace, for which Mr. Abrams said “he doesn’t get much credit for,” such as permits for Palestinians from the West Bank to work in Israel.

The former deputy national security advisor moved on to talk about the Iran deal and the likelihood of President Trump decertifying the agreement in October.

“The President would like to” decertify the deal, Abrams said. “He has always said this is not a good deal. It’s a very bad deal. It’s not in the American interest.” According to him, the President will seek to highlight Iran’s non-nuclear behavior, “in particular its support for terrorism and its behavior in Syria”, to make to case against the renewal of the agreement.

“My own guess is that the President in October…will not give Iran a clean bill and just go forward as we are,” Mr. Abrams explained. He referenced a speech by UN Ambassador Nikki Haley in September, where she outlined what would happen if the President were not to renew the agreement. “It is hard for me to believe the U.N. Ambassador would give a speech like that without coordinating at all with the President and people in the White House,” Abrams noted.

He also said the idea of the Obama administration to sign the deal with Iran and thereby strengthen “so-called moderates in Tehran like Rouhani” and to change Iran’s non-nuclear behavior” for the better has fantastically failed.

“If anything, Iran’s behavior is worse,” Mr. Abrams said. “Internally it [the regime] is as repressive or even more repressive than it has ever been” and “externally Iran is very active in supporting the Houthis in Yemen.” He added that “Iran’s behavior in the Gulf is not any better at all. We still have the harassing of American ships in the Persian Gulf that has been going on all year.”

Abrams then reflected on the situation in Syria, where Iran has built a significant presence putting at risk Israel’s security.

“In Syria, we see IRGC troops on the ground and we see thousands of Hezbollah soldiers. And we see Shiite militia, which were brought together to fight,” he said. “So absolutely no improvement in Iran’s non-nuclear behavior in the region.  There is as much support for terrorism as there has ever been,” Mr. Abrams noted.

He concluded by saying that Iran’s non-nuclear behavior itself puts a question mark over the legitimacy of the nuclear deal. If it gives the regime “billions and billions and billions of dollars which helps finance this kind of behavior by Iran, why is it in the American national interest?” he asked. “That’s the argument the President is going to hear,” Abrams said.

[Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ Gage Skidmore]