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President Trump Is A Catastrophe For Palestinians, Shaath Says

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: In the 1960s, a Palestinian man named Nabil Shaath was teaching at the Wharton School of Business in Philadelphia. He believes one of his students was Donald Trump. Today, Nabil Shaath is a senior Palestinian official, and President Trump recently dealt a blow to his drive for a Palestinian state. The president recognized the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. That cleared the way for today's opening of the U.S. Embassy, which we're attending. Over the weekend, we sat with Shaath, that Palestinian leader.

NABIL SHAATH: Mr. Trump is a catastrophe to Palestinians and Israelis. Now he is today pro-Israel. He's very much siding with Israelis, and moving his embassy to Jerusalem was nothing than a demonstration of his alliance with Israelis.

INSKEEP: Is that different, though? Because every American president supports Israel, in one way or another.

SHAATH: No, no, no. America always stood by, quote, unquote, "a two-state solution."

INSKEEP: A solution he says the administration is wrecking with a series of acts. Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital gave Israel an advantage over Palestinians who want the east side of the same city for their capital.

How can you respond in any effective way to what the president has done?

SHAATH: Have patience. (Laughter) Come on. I mean, we're not going to war with the United States, obviously.

INSKEEP: Nabil Shaath is relying on demographics. Palestinians inside Israel and the occupied territories are coming to outnumber Israeli Jews.

In talking with Israelis in west Jerusalem, I ran across a man, a father of a couple of young kids, who said that he was excited the U.S. embassy has moved to Jerusalem. He believes Jerusalem is and should always be Israel's capital. He said he would be willing to see a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. But then he said, I don't think that's what Palestinians actually want. He says, I think what Palestinians want is to push us out, to push out Israelis, to push out the Jews.

SHAATH: OK. That's the logic of negation. You'll have to make the other side the negative one. You are not the negative one. In other words, that totally ignores the fact that Israel is a nuclear power. A country with an army like this one is a country that really should be blamed if you don't reach an agreement.

INSKEEP: Your president, Mahmoud Abbas, was fiercely criticized in recent weeks because he made a number of remarks in speeches that were seen as anti-Semitic, describing Jews as having been moneylenders and that perhaps was why people did not like them in Germany during the Holocaust. Why was he speaking like that?

SHAATH: I'd be happy if you can explain that to me (laughter). Look, I've known this man for a long time, and he actually led my effort to produce the first Palestinian-Jewish dialogue. And by Jewish, I mean Jewish Americans, Jewish Europeans and Jewish Israelis. You want a practical analysis? That might not be convincing (laughter). If he had written a speech that included that, I would say he meant it. He did not write the speech.

INSKEEP: You're suggesting he was distracted and...

SHAATH: I think it was...

INSKEEP: ...Speaking extemporaneously.

SHAATH: The distraction is reflected in the lack of logic in what he said. And I told him after that, don't ask me to explain to people that. Just apologize. And I think what he did is something very rare among Arab leaders. I don't know an Arab leader who apologized for something he said that he felt really was not exactly what he meant.

INSKEEP: That's Nabil Shaath, a senior Palestinian official, speaking just before today's opening ceremony of the U.S. Embassy here in Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.