by Steve Holland, Yara Bayoumy ~ DAVOS, Switzerland, REUTERS
U.S. President Donald Trump threatened on Thursday to withhold aid to the Palestinians if they did not pursue peace with Israel, saying they had snubbed the United States by not meeting Vice President Mike Pence during a recent visit.
Trump, speaking after a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland said he aimed for peace in the Middle East.
Palestinians shunned Pence’s visit to the region this month after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and vowed to begin moving the U.S. embassy to the city, whose status is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Trump’s endorsement in December of Israel’s claim to Jerusalem as its capital drew universal condemnation from Arab leaders and criticism around the world. It also broke with decades of U.S. policy that the city’s status must be decided in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
“When they disrespected us a week ago by not allowing our great vice president to see them, and we give them hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and support, tremendous numbers, numbers that nobody understands – that money is on the table and that money is not going to them unless they sit down and negotiate peace,” Trump said.
Washington had already said it would withhold about half the initial aid it planned to give a U.N. agency that serves the Palestinians.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has called Trump’s Jerusalem declaration a “slap in the face” and has rejected Washington as an honest broker in any future talks with Israel. Abbas left for an overseas visit before Pence arrived.
Israel’s government regards Jerusalem as the eternal and indivisible capital of the country, although that is not recognized internationally. Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
Trump said Palestinians had to come to the negotiating table.
“Because I can tell you that Israel does want to make peace and they’re going to have to want to make peace too or we’re going to have nothing to do with them any longer,” Trump said.
Trump said his administration had a peace proposal in the works that was a “great proposal for Palestinians” which covers “a lot of the things that were over the years discussed or agreed on”, without providing specifics.
Trump said that his declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital took it off the negotiating table “and Israel will pay for that”, adding “they’ll do something that will be a very good thing” without elaborating.
Earlier at the World Economic Forum, Jordanian King Abdullah said Jerusalem had to be part of a comprehensive solution.
He said Trump’s decision had created a backlash, frustrating Palestinians who felt there was no honest broker.
But he added: “I’d like to reserve judgment because we’re still waiting for the Americans to come out with their plan.”
King Abdullah’s Hashemite dynasty is the custodian of the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, making Jordan particularly sensitive to any changes of status there.
Additional reporting by Noah Barkin; Reporting by Stephen Holland and Yara Bayoumy; Writing by Yara Bayoumy