Confusion Follows Trump's Tweeted Threat To Cut Aid To Palestinians
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
One of the president's tweets in the new year that Ari mentioned earlier is sowing confusion and anger in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Just last month, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, was explaining to the world that though the administration decided to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, its final status is still up for negotiation.
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NIKKI HALEY: The president took great care not to prejudge final status negotiations in any way, including the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem.
KELEMEN: But President Trump now says via Twitter that he's, quote, "taken Jerusalem - the toughest part of the negotiation - off the table." He's threatening an aid cutoff if Palestinians don't negotiate with Israelis. And he says because of the Jerusalem decision, the Israelis will have to, quote, "pay more."
That last part confused some Israelis, while the Palestinians, who claim East Jerusalem as their future capital, are furious. David Makovsky of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy has tracked Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts for years, both as a journalist and a former State Department official.
DAVID MAKOVSKY: It used to be the State Department spokesman would have very carefully crafted statements. But now people are saying, what should I believe? Should I believe those officials, or should believe what the president says from his gut?
KELEMEN: Makovsky says the tweets could make it impossible to revive peace talks.
MAKOVSKY: What's there to negotiate if you just took Jerusalem off the table?
KELEMEN: One U.S. official tried to downplay this, saying Trump has only taken off the table that Jerusalem is Israel's capital - not Palestinian claims to the eastern part of the city. But Tamara Wittes of the Brookings Institution says she takes the tweet seriously.
TAMARA WITTES: Even when sort of mitigated or tempered by post-facto staff work, these pronouncements tend to hold up in one form or another.
KELEMEN: And it's risky business, she says, for staffers to try to parse the president's tweets. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.