As many as seven Arab or Muslim countries are likely to follow the lead set by the UAE and Bahrain by signing agreements to normalize relations with Israel, according to Avi Berkowitz, special adviser to US President Donald Trump on Middle East negotiations.
He said that Arab and Muslim political and business leaders have been disappointed by the refusal of the Palestinian leadership to even discuss the “Peace to Prosperity” plan for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which was proposed last year by the Trump administration. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described it as “the deal of the century.”
During an exclusive interview with Arab News on Tuesday, Berkowitz stressed that the door remains open to the Palestinians if they agree to negotiate, but Trump will seek alternatives if they refuse to engage.
He added the refusal by some Palestinian leaders to negotiate will no longer prevent other Arab and Muslim countries from pursuing peace with Israel, or deter the US from talking with other Palestinian community leaders and groups.
“We can disagree about the details. We can sit around the table and negotiate them,” Berkowitz said during the interview, which will be broadcast on Detroit radio station WNZK at 8 a.m. local time on Wednesday morning.
“But if you are unwilling to actually review the plan and think it through and explain why you think it is not acceptable, then we are not really talking — we are sort of talking past each other. And I think a lot of people in the region saw that and said ‘we are no longer going to allow this to be a veto over our national interests.’”
Berkowitz said that while there is a seat at the table for the Palestinian leadership to discuss the Trump peace plan, in their absence talks are taking place with other Palestinian community and business leaders, although he did not name them.
“We put out a plan and the plan calls for a realistic two-state solution,” he said. “It calls for a Palestinian state with a capital in areas of East Jerusalem. It calls for free access to all people who come in peace to all of the holy sites, so that no one can say that in any way they are under siege. (It also offers) $50 billion in investments, as well as provisions for people who have been displaced: the refugee issue.
“It undoubtedly is something that will make the lives of the Palestinian people better and will change the course of the region. And so when that was (announced) a lot of people saw that the Palestinians refused the plan prior to it even being published. They wouldn’t even read it before rejecting it — and honestly, that is unacceptable.”
Berkowitz said his own frustration with the situation “pales in comparison” to the frustration that can be heard in the voices of the Palestinian people about the actions of their leaders.
“They understand the current trajectory is a bad one and they constantly bring me fresh ideas,” he added.
Arguing that the presence of Israel is a reality that the Palestinians must accept, Berkowitz said: “We’re not going to allow that to be a veto over the project that we hope to make in the region going forward.”
However, he added that this does not mean that long-standing grievances and concerns will be ignored.
“This is not something that is being done at the exclusion of understanding the significance of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he said. “That is a real issue. It is one that we intend to give as much attention as the Palestinian leadership is willing to engage us on.”
The agreement between the UAE and Israel was announced on Aug. 13. Bahrain announced a similar deal on Sept. 11. Both agreements, known as the Abraham Accords, were brokered by Trump. They were signed by the foreign ministers of the UAE and Bahrain and Netanyahu at the White House on Sept. 15.
In exchange for establishing full diplomatic and economic ties, Israel agreed to suspend its plans to annex large areas of the occupied West Bank.