AMMAN (AFP) – US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wound up a three-day Middle East trip Monday without having met any Palestinian, but nevertheless urged their leadership to rejoin the peace process.
Washington’s newly appointed top diplomat received a warm reception in Riyadh, Tel Aviv and Amman, focusing his talks on Iranian interference in the region — despite the tensions once against rising between Israel and the Palestinians.
Forty-five Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire on the Gaza border since the start of protests that organisers have dubbed the Great March of Return on March 30, with more than 1,500 wounded.
But Pompeo, who met Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his military headquarters on Sunday, refused to criticise the use of deadly force, saying: “We do believe the Israelis have a right to defend themselves and we’re fully supportive of that.”
Pompeo was speaking in Amman, capital of Israel’s neighbour Jordan on the last day of his first diplomatic mission since he was sworn into office on Thursday and immediately set off for a NATO ministerial meeting in Brussels.
Before taking questions, he met Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, who said that Jordan believes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is “the main cause of instability in the region” that a two-state solution is the “only path” to peace.
US President Donald Trump’s administration has not ruled out the creation of a Palestinian state at some point in the future, but has emphasised that it will not impose such an outcome on its ally Israel.
Trump’s decision to recognise the divided city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and plan to move the US embassy there next month outraged the Palestinians, who are boycotting contacts with top US officials.
This has called into question the utility of a US peace plan being drawn up by the White House under the leadership of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, which even US officials privately admit is far from ready.
Nevertheless, Pompeo placed the onus on the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table.
“The parties will ultimately make the decision about what the right resolution is,” he said.
“We’re certainly open to a two-party solution as a likely outcome. We certainly believe that the Israelis and the Palestinians need to have political engagement,” he added.
“We urge the Palestinians to return to that political dialogue.”
Asked whether he agreed with his host Safadi that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the most important threat to the stability of the region, Pompeo declined to rank it but described it as an “incredible priority”.