Pompeo says US Mideast plan to discard old 'parameters'

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testifies at a House Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the State Department's budget request for 2020 in Washington on March 27, 2019.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testifies at a House Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the State Department's budget request for 2020 in Washington on March 27, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested on Wednesday (March 27) that an upcoming US peace plan would break with longstanding understandings on issues such as Jerusalem and Israeli settlements, saying the old approach had failed.

President Donald Trump's administration is expected to present an outline of a Middle East peace plan shortly after Israel's April 9 election, although the Palestinian Authority has rejected US mediation over Mr Trump's landmark recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

"I'm very confident that what was tried before failed and I'm optimistic that what we're doing will give us a better likelihood that we'll achieve the outcomes that would be better for both the people of Israel and the Palestinian people as well," Mr Pompeo said as he testified before Congress.

Mr Pompeo repeatedly demurred when the committee's Democratic chairwoman, Ms Nita Lowey, asked him if the Trump administration stood by the decades-old US position in support of a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.

Mr Pompeo said the United States wanted to "broaden the debate", when asked if a peace deal would focus as in the past on establishing borders, mutual recognition and the status of Jerusalem, Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Palestinian refugees.

"Those are the parameters that were largely at hand in the discussions before and they led us where we are today - no resolution," Mr Pompeo said.

The US plan will be "grounded in the facts on the ground and a realistic assessment of what would get us a good outcome", he said.

The Trump administration has rallied behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the veteran right-winger faces a tough election.

 
 
 
 

Since taking office, Mr Trump has moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, closed the Palestinians' office in Washington, pulled the United States from UN bodies accused of anti-Israel bias and cut off funding for the UN agency that provides schooling and other services to Palestinian refugees.

Representative David Price, a Democrat, questioned the approach, sarcastically asking Mr Pompeo if the Palestinians should feel "grateful".

"This is the path forward, you're confident, to totally marginalise and alienate the Palestinian side?" Mr Price said.

Speaking this week before the US pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, the US ambassador in Jerusalem, Mr David Friedman, said Mr Trump was pushing a peace plan because it would meet Israel's goals.

Mr Friedman said the Trump administration understood that Israel faced an "existential threat" if Israel gave up security control of the West Bank.

"Can we leave this to an administration that may not understand that in the Middle East, peace comes through strength, not just through words on a paper?" he asked.