Pompeo and Palestinians have 'nothing to discuss' amid Gaza crisis

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at a press conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on April 29, 2018.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at a press conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on April 29, 2018.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL (NYTIMES) - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo came to Israel Sunday (April 29) in the midst of the worst crisis in relations between Israelis and Palestinians in years, but he did not meet a single Palestinian representative and mentioned them publicly once.

For decades, US diplomats saw themselves as brokers between the two sides, and secretaries of state typically met Palestinian representatives on regional tours like this one. When relations between the two sides deteriorated, the United States sought to bridge the divide.

No more.

No one at the State Department called Palestinian leaders to ask for a get-together with Pompeo, according to Palestinian officials. And that may be because the Americans knew the answer they would have gotten: No.

Infuriated by President Donald Trump's decision in December to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, paving the way for the United States to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to the contested holy city, Palestinian leaders have cut off political contacts with the Trump administration. They say the White House can no longer be considered an honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

"There's nothing to discuss," said Xavier Abu Eid, a senior official of the Palestine Liberation Organization's Negotiations Affairs Department.

In a remarks Sunday in Tel Aviv while standing next to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Pompeo mentioned that the boundaries of Jerusalem should still be the subject of negotiations between the parties. "We remain committed to achieving a lasting and comprehensive peace that offers a brighter future for both Israel and the Palestinians," he said.

 
 

But the escalating protests along the border between Gaza and Israel - which have led to hundreds of injuries and 46 deaths and have generated global sympathy for the Palestinian cause - went unmentioned.

"No meeting in Ramallah on his first visit sets an ominous tone about prospects for any progress, or even dialogue, with the Palestinians," said Daniel B. Shapiro, a US ambassador to Israel during the Obama administration.

Aaron David Miller, a former negotiator for the United States in the Middle East, said Pompeo's seeming indifference toward the Palestinians "at the very least suggests a casual disregard of the Israeli-Palestinian explosion that may be building and the US' inability or unwillingness to influence the course of events."

Instead of discussing the Palestinian issue, Pompeo's focused message on his sweep through the region has been a denunciation of Iran. He met with Saudi leaders on Saturday and Sunday morning, and they all agreed that Iran is a destabilising force. He met Sunday afternoon with Netanyahu, who blistered Iran alongside Pompeo.

And Monday, he is scheduled to meet King Abdullah of Jordan in Amman, when Iran is again likely to be the most important subject of conversation.