US officials say The Trump Administration is staffing up a Middle East policy team at the White House in anticipation of unveiling its long awaited but largely mysterious Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.
The National Security Council last week began approaching other agencies seeking volunteers to join The Team, which will work for President Donald Trump’s Mideast peace point-men Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt.
The Team is being set up to organize the peace plan’s public presentation and any negotiations that may ensue, will comprise 3 units, they are:
- Concentrating on its political and security details
- Concentrating on its significant economic focus and,
- Concentrating on strategic communications.
The creation of a White House Team is the 1st evidence in months that a plan is advancing. Although WH officials have long promised the most comprehensive package ever put forward toward resolving the conflict, the emerging plan has not been described in any detail by Messrs Kushner, Greenblatt or any other official.
Timing on the release of the plan remains undecided.
The US State Department, Pentagon, intel agencies and Congress have been asked to detail personnel to the team for 6 months to a year.
The agencies declined to comment but an NSC official said that Mr. Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, and Mr. Greenblatt,President Trump’s special envoy for international negotiations, “are expanding their team and the resources available as they finalize the details and roll-out strategy of the peace initiative.”
White House officials say the plan will focus on pragmatic details, rather than top-line concepts, that will be able to easier win public support.
Yet the Palestinian leadership has been openly hostile to any proposal from The Trump Administration, citing what it says is a pro-Israel bias, notably after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December and moved the US Embassy there from Tel Aviv in May.
Since the Palestinian Authority and its President Mahmoud Abbas broke off contact after the Jerusalem announcement, the US negotiating Team has been talking to independent Palestinian experts.
The White House expects that the Palestinian Authority will engage on the plan and has been resisting congressional demands to fully close the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington because Messrs Greenblatt and Kushner want to keep that channel open.
Palestinian alienation has continued to grow as millions of dollars in US assistance remains on hold and appears likely to be cut entirely. With just 2 months left in the current budget year, less than 50% of the planned $251-M in US aid planned for the Palestinians in Y 2018, or $92.8-M has been released, according to the government’s online tracker at www.foreignassistance.gov.
The remaining amount is still on hold as is an additional $65-M in frozen US assistance to the UN Relief and Works Agency, which provides services to Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan and Lebanon.
Israel’s response to the plan is not certain.
Although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is one of Trump’s top foreign allies, it remains unclear if he will back massive investment in Gaza, which is run by the militant Hamas movement.
For the plan to succeed or even survive the starting gate, it will need at least initial buy-in from both Israel and the Palestinians as well as from the Gulf Arab (GCC) states, which officials say will be asked to substantially bankroll its economic portion.
Arab officials are in a wait to see mode.
Officials say there will never be a perfect time for the roll-out, but that they are laying the groundwork now for when an opportune time becomes apparent.
The plan is not finished yet, but is being finalized, including an economic development proposal for the Palestinian people that foresees major infrastructure and industrial work, particularly in Gaza.
The officials believe that the hope of a better economic future for the Palestinians coupled with progress on that front, the Palestinians may be willing to delay or modify what have been intractable and to-date unresolvable demands from Israel. Those include the right for Palestinian refugees to return to lands they abandoned or were forced from, the recognition of East Jerusalem as the capital of an independent Palestine.
And, they plan to appeal to all sides of the conflict not to let the disagreements of the past hold back their children’s futures, according to officials.
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