Palestinians' Erekat: Trump destabilizing Middle East

Washington (AFP) –


US President Donald Trump's administration has fanned extremism and weakened political moderates in the Middle East, a senior Palestinian official and chief negotiator warned on Friday.

Saeb Erekat, Palestine Liberation Organisation secretary-general, said Trump's decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and his close alignment with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on issues such as Jewish settlements, were major destabilizing factors.

"They're giving so much strength to extremism in the region," Erekat said on a conference call organized by the Wilson Center, a think tank on global issues.

Erekat accused Trump of seeking to "dictate" a solution through his deeply contentious act of moving the embassy, as well as slashing aid to programs aimed at improving conditions in the West Bank and Gaza and dropping the issue of Palestinian refugees from possible negotiations.

"This will not work for Palestinians," Erekat said.

"We have been weakened by the actions of Trump and the actions of Netanyahu."

Erekat was speaking days after some 60 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces in chaotic demonstrations on the Gaza border on the same day the United States inaugurated its Jerusalem embassy.

While Erekat stressed that the anger level was "higher than any time before," he also said it was up to officials such as himself and moderate Israeli leaders to step up and help improve prospects for peace.

"This is the absence of peace," he said, referring to the current conditions.

"I don't see anyone expressing sorrow for one human life."

Erekat also accused Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is working on an upcoming peace plan with Jason Greenblatt, the US envoy for Middle East peace, of failing to support a two-state solution and not condemning the expansion of Jewish settlements.

Also on the call was Gilead Sher, an Israeli attorney who spent years as a peace negotiator and is a former negotiator with the Palestinians.

"I deeply regret the loss of innocent lives" in the clashes, Sher said, but he insisted Israeli forces were protecting their territory and that Gaza's Islamist leaders Hamas bear responsibility.

Sher and Erekat nevertheless expressed hope for progress, agreeing it was crucial to "lower the flames" of conflict, improve Gaza's humanitarian conditions, and resume talks.

"Our conflict can be resolved," Sher said. "How to get there is the problem."