JERUSALEM (JTA) — Donald Trump raised consternation on Aug. 21 when he said Israel will have to pay a “high price” in negotiations with the Palestinians once the White House unveils its Middle East peace plan.
Addressing supporters during a rally in West Virginia Aug. 21, Trump praised himself for moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, saying that it “should have been done years ago” and that his decision to do so would help facilitate a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians because it took the issue of Jerusalem “off the table.”
“And you know what, in the negotiation Israel will have to pay a higher price because they won a very big thing but I took it off the table,” he continued. The Palestinians “could never get past the fact of Jerusalem becoming the capital but they will get something very good next, because it’s their turn next.”
The president’s remarks caused consternation in Jerusalem, forcing National Security Advisor John Bolton, who was here for discussions related to Iran, to qualify his boss’ remarks. Speaking to reporters at the King David Hotel on Aug. 22, he denied that that the embassy move was part of a “quid pro quo,” stating that “as a deal-maker, as a bargainer, he would expect, you would expect, I would expect that the Palestinians would say ‘okay, great. So, we didn’t get that one and now we want something else. And we’ll see how it goes.’”
However, he added, “the fundamental point is that ultimately this is something that the parties are going to have to agree on. When the parties talk about it and agree, they’ll decide between themselves what the price of that, if anything, was.”
Responding to Trump, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel told Army Radio that “this isn’t a terrible morning, but there is cause for concern regarding Trump.” Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi took pains to reassure Israelis, asserting that the President “has not turned on us.”
“And I can say as someone who has intensive contacts with the White House – I was there only three weeks ago – that he will not turn on us,” he said.
Such reassurances follow months of euphoria following the embassy move, and general relief on the Israeli right that Trump shares their views. Following the 2016 election, Education Minister Naftali Bennett famously boasted that “the era of the Palestinian state is over.”
Politicians on the left were more welcoming of Trump’s remarks. Former Defense Minister MK Amir Peretz was quoted by The Jerusalem Post as saying that “when dealing with a president who thinks like a businessman it was clear it would only be a matter of time until he asked for something in return.”
No one can claim that this is a hostile president with demands that are not legitimate. Netanyahu cannot deny the need to make courageous decisions. Solving the dispute and dividing the land into two states for two peoples is not a deal with the US but an Israeli interest that will allow our state to remain both Jewish and democratic.”
The Trump administration has yet to reveal its much-touted Middle East peace plan, which is being developed by Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser; Jason Greenblatt, a special representative for international negotiations; David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel; and Nikki Haley, the U.S. envoy to the United Nations.
The team released a joint statement last week saying that “no one will be fully pleased with our proposal, but that’s the way it must be if real peace is to be achieved. Peace can only succeed if it is based on realities.”
It is possible that Trump’s latest statement was intended to bring the Palestinians to the table, following President Mahmoud Abbas’ statement that he would not consider the Americans’ proposals.
“We were the first to fight against it and we will continue to fight against it until it falls,” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said of the administration’s plan last week during a session of the PLO Central Council. “This is the ‘slap of the century.’”
This isn’t the first time Trump has made such comments. Earlier this year, he suggested that if the Palestinians return to talks, his decision on Jerusalem would mean that it’s now Israel’s turn to give up something to keep the Palestinians in. “You win one point,” Trump said to Netanyahu during the World Economic Forum in Davos this January, “and you’ll give up some points later on in the negotiation if it ever takes place. I don’t know that it ever will take place.” Later, Trump said, “Israel will pay for that,” referring to Jerusalem.