Palestinian official: We did not run away from negotiations

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territory - A senior Palestinian official on Tuesday objected to President Donald Trump's suggestion that the Palestinians have walked away from peace negotiations, saying U.S. policies in favour of Israel have pushed the Palestinians away from any future process.

Mohammed Ishtayeh, a top adviser to President Mahmoud Abbas, said a series of U.S. steps have harmed the climate ahead of an expected peace proposal by the White House.

"When ... President Trump says the Palestinians are running away from the negotiating table, which negotiating table?" Ishtayeh told foreign journalists. "Since he came to power, there have been no negotiations whatsoever."

Ishtayeh criticized the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, the planned move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem in May, U.S. cuts in funding to the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees and restrictions on the Palestinian diplomatic office in Washington.

"If you are really preparing something as an honest broker, why is it that you are taking measures against one of the parties in favour of the other party?" he asked. "This is something that really needs to be explained."

Since Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital in December, the Palestinians have reduced contacts with the Americans and declared the U.S. unfit to mediate.

At a White House meeting Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump said he thinks the Palestinians "are wanting to come back to the table very badly."

If the Palestinians don't return to the table, he said, "you don't have peace."

Trump's Mideast team, headed by his embattled son-in-law Jared Kushner, has been working on a peace proposal for over a year, but has not said when it will be ready or presented to the sides.

Ishtayeh said the Palestinians fear the plan will be biased, creating a situation where it will be impossible to negotiate.

He called for the U.S. to take "confidence-building steps," such as declaring east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1967, to be occupied territory and restoring funding for UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees.

He also said the U.S. should give up its traditional role as the sole Mideast broker and instead give way to a multilateral process, including an international conference and talks backed by leading international players.

"We are ready. Our president is ready. If he is offered something with substance, he is ready to deal with it tomorrow," Ishtayeh said.


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