After Paris, Israelis and Palestinians look to Trump

Palestinians walking near the Israeli settlement of Beit El, in the occupied West Bank, north of Ramallah. (Abbas Momani, AFP)
Palestinians walking near the Israeli settlement of Beit El, in the occupied West Bank, north of Ramallah. (Abbas Momani, AFP)

Jerusalem - Israel and the Palestinians remain as far apart as ever after a Paris conference, with attention now turning to whether US President-elect Donald Trump will shake up the long-stagnant Middle East peace process.

Four days before his inauguration, Trump suggested on Monday that for the Middle East peace process, like many issues, his presidency may mean a plunge into uncharted waters.

On Sunday, the international community reaffirmed in Paris its commitment to an independent Palestinian state, but Trump in an interview with European newspapers the next day appeared to undermine that, saying the "Palestinians are given so much".

The Paris conference's concluding document welcomed a UN Security Council Resolution on December 23 which condemned Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, considered illegal under international law.

The resolution, which was approved thanks to a rare American abstention in the final weeks of the administration of Barack Obama, was "terrible", Trump told The Times of London and Germany's Bild newspaper.

"The problem I have is that it makes it [Israel-Palestinian peace] a tougher deal for me to negotiate because the Palestinians are given so much," he said.

Trump also confirmed that his son-in-law Jared Kushner would play a role in trying to negotiate peace.

"Jared is such a good kid and he'll make a deal with Israel that no one else can," he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly denounced the Paris conference as another useless attempt at an international "diktat", arguing that only direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations can lead to peace.

For the Netanyahu government, eight years of frosty relations with the Obama administration culminated with the December 23 resolution.

Tomorrow's world 

Netanyahu said on Sunday he was waiting for Trump, who has said there is no politician as pro-Israeli as him, to enter the Oval Office.

The Paris conference was one of the "last spasms of yesterday's world", according to the Israeli premier. "Tomorrow will look different and tomorrow is very close."

Referring to the Iranian nuclear deal and settlements in the West Bank, Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi told reporters: "We can feel comfortable about the fact that the incoming administration, unlike its predecessor, feels the same about two major issues.

"This is a powerful change and I think it is positive for the world."

The Palestinian leadership, too, has realised the changes that the Trump presidency could bring.

They have started to sound the alarm about Trump's promise to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Such a transfer would break with the consensus of the vast majority of the international community, which does not recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

The some 70 countries present in Paris warned they would not recognise unilateral actions that threaten a negotiated solution, while Palestinian leaders have threatened retaliatory measures.

Asked about the embassy move, Trump refused to comment to The Times and Bild, saying only "we'll see what happens".

Without teeth

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erakat said the Paris conference "created a momentum" towards the end of Israel's occupation of the West Bank and east Jerusalem, which the Jewish state seized in a 1967 war.

Palestinian political scientist Khalil Shaheen welcomed the fact the conference "showed the commitment of dozens of countries to the two-state solution, an important message to the Israelis and the Trump administration".

However, "at the same time, the declaration of the Paris conference was without teeth," he added, referring to the lack of enforcement mechanisms.

The Israelis have warned they will not be bound by the declaration.

Ofer Zalzberg, an analyst at the International Crisis Group think-tank, admitted the conference had not set out a new policy.

But "the Trump administration will have to deal with the fact that the European and Arab countries are saying: 'This is what we are committed to.' In this sense it is not as if it is just disappearing."

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