AP: Gulf Arabs Back Trump’s Mideast Efforts, but Not Peace Plan

A tectonic shift in relations quietly underway for years now was on full display as representatives of Gulf Arab states attended President Donald Trump’s unveiling this week of an Israeli-Palestinian plan that heavily sides with Israel and all but crushes Palestinian aspirations, The Associated Press reported.

The audience at the White House, when Trump presented the plan alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, included Christian Zionist leaders and staunch pro-Israel supporters, such as Republican party donor Sheldon Adelson. Rounding out the crowd were ambassadors of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Oman, who posed for a photo at the White House ceremony for the plan, which Palestinians have outright rejected.

For the Arab perspective, however, Saudi Arabia’s reaction was the one most closely watched. The kingdom expressed support for the Trump administration’s efforts, but did not sends its ambassador to attend the ceremony, AP adds.

The Saudi response was also significant for what it didn’t say — the kingdom did not endorse the plan, but also made no explicit mention of long-held Arab demands for a Palestinian state on occupied land with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Rather, Saudi Arabia encouraged Palestinians to start “direct peace negotiations,” essentially urging the Palestinians to accept the White House’s framework as the starting point for talks.

“The Saudis crafted their message to appeal to two audiences: their domestic public and the Trump administration,” said Kristin Diwan Smith, a scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. Their formal statement, she said, does nothing to offend Trump or deter the Israelis.

With the exception of Kuwait, all Gulf Arab countries have engaged in outreach with Israel or pro-Israeli figures in recent years. The effort has accelerated as Saudi Arabia and Israel share a common threat in Iran, AP noted.

Avi Berkowitz, a White House staffer intimately involved in drafting the plan, immediately thanked Saudi Arabia for its statement. In five separate tweets, he shared the Saudi response, as well as an article on the conservative Fox News network that carried the headline: “Saudi Arabia backs US-Israel efforts to achieve Mideast peace.” That tweet was shared by Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump, whose husband Jared Kushner was the chief architect of the plan.

Prominent Israeli-American Zionist figure Joel Rosenberg, who has led two Christian evangelical delegations to Saudi Arabia for meetings with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, described the Saudi statement as “quite positive”.

The optimistic spin on the Saudi response underscores how important the kingdom’s support is to any future peace deal.

Less talked about, though, was a second Saudi statement published minutes after the first, announcing that King Salman had spoken with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and affirmed Saudi Arabia’s “steadfast stance on the Palestinian issue and the rights of the Palestinian people.”

Palestinian officials said that during their call, Abbas explained to the 84-year-old monarch why the Palestinians reject the plan and emphasized the issue of Jerusalem. They said King Salman told Abbas that Saudi Arabia supports any decision the Palestinians make, AP writes.

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