Berkowitz: No indication Palestinians returning to talks

But US official Avi Berkowitz says there are channels of communication

epa06391546 Palestinian and Lebanese protesters carry placards, wave Palestinian flags and shout slogans during a protest against Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel, in front of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia building (ESCWA) in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, 15 December 2017.  EPA/NABIL MOUNZER
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US Special Representative for International Negotiations Avi Berkowitz on Tuesday said there was no expectation that the Palestinian Authority leadership would return to the table soon.

Mr Berkowitz, an assistant to President Donald Trump, told The National that the administration had channels with the Palestinian Authority and business leaders despite the absence of direct talks since December 2018.

“They haven’t come to the table since December of 2017," he said.

"Do they feel the lives of the Palestinian people have got better because of abandoning the negotiations?”

On Tuesday at the White House, the UAE, Bahrain and Israel signed the Abraham Accords. The UAE and Israel's agreement had been announced on August 13 after a phone call between Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, Mr Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The text of the UAE-Israel peace treaty signed on Tuesday stresses the importance of a negotiated peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and the need to meet their goals and aspirations.

A halting of Israel's planned annexation of Palestinian territories was a key part of the agreement for the UAE to normalise relations.

At the ceremony on Tuesday, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation thanked Mr Netanyahu for halting the annexation, “a decision that reinforces our shared will to achieve a better future for generations to come”.

The accord enables the UAE “to continue to stand by the Palestinian people and realise their hopes for an independent state within a stable and prosperous region”, Sheikh Abdullah said.

It also “builds upon previous peace agreements signed by Arab nations” with Israel. Jordan and Egypt signed their treaties with Israel in 1994 and 1979 respectively.

Hopes for negotiations with other Arab countries

Mr Berkowitz expressed more hope in having breakthroughs with other Arab countries after the UAE and Bahrain signed agreements with Israel on Tuesday.

“There is momentum and hope in the region and we are working on finding a solution," he said. "And these are detailed, complex negotiations,” he said.

Mr Berkowitz said he was hopeful that another accord would be announced before the November 3 presidential election because of the persistence of Mr Trump.

On Tuesday, Mr Trump said five or six countries could join.

Later in the day, he said “seven or eight or nine” Arab countries are potentials, “including the big ones".

Mr Trump was non-committal about Saudi Arabia earlier on Tuesday.

"I have had very personal talks with the king and the crown prince and I think their minds are very open," he said.

Later, Mr Trump said: "At the right time, I think they will come in.”

He said the Palestinians were giving strong signals that they wanted to be part of the negotiations but it would happen only after others joined.

"I think they are seeing what is happening and we've been given very strong signals that they'd like to be a part of what is happening," Mr Trump said.

"We will see the Palestinians at some point, but before we see the Palestinians, we will see other very important countries come into this transaction."

The Palestinian Authority cut its relations with the Trump administration after the US embassy moved to Jerusalem in December 2018, which was followed by a suspension of aid and closure of the Palestine Liberation Organisation office in Washington.

Mr Berkowitz has been a key member of the White House team that helped broker the Abraham Accords. Senior adviser Jared Kushner has led the effort to find a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict during Mr Trump's first term as president and has made public the economic parts of the US peace plan.

Dr Gargash says 'region deserves prosperity' 

The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr Anwar Gargash, said "the history of the region is that whenever the Arabs have tried peace it hasn't been easy but it has had results".

Speaking after the signing of the accords to former diplomats and parliamentarians, at a webinar organised by the Emirates Society, he said "disengaging is not the right policy - events have shown that the policy of the empty chair does not work".

"Engage, engage, engage. Not engaging is not a policy, the region deserves peace and deserves prosperity."

The 2002 Arab Peace Initiative which "as a concept of land for peace is still there", he said.

"I don't see what we have done, what Bahrain has done, in anyway kills it."

The plan includes establishing a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

He said it would help if Western countries such as Britain recognised Palestine as a state.

"Recognition of a Palestinian state is both admirable and important," he added.

Dr Gargash said both the UAE and Israel should have full scale relations with resident ambassadors and bilateral visits. Such exchanges should be scaled up within days rather than months.

"Shattering the psychological barrier is the biggest task, other issues are not easy but are easier to manage."

There was a need to regularise these relationships with agreements governing consular, investment, air services and other sectors, he said.