Trump and Abbas to speak by phone for first time Friday

US President Donald Trump will hold his first conversation with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas Friday, the White House said late Thursday.

The phone call between the two will end nearly two months of what Palestinian officials say has been near-total silence between Ramallah and the new administration.

According to Trump’s schedule released by the White House, the US president will speak with Abbas by phone at 12:15 p.m. Washington time (8:15 p.m. in Israel). The call will come before Trump has lunch with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

The White House did not say what would be discussed, and there was no immediate comment from Ramallah.

The conversation will come days before Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s special envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, is expected to meet with Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in separate meetings in his first visit to the region in that role, according to a report by the Walla news site.

Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas gestures as he speaks during a joint statement with French President following their meeting on February 7, 2017 at the Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris. (AFP/Stephane de Sakutin)

Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas gestures as he speaks during a joint statement with French President following their meeting on February 7, 2017 at the Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris. (AFP/Stephane de Sakutin)

A senior administration official told Walla news that Greenblatt will visit the leaders in both Jerusalem and the West Bank “to hear their positions on the current state of affairs and on steps that can be taken to move towards peace.”

Palestinian officials have complained several times that attempts to reach out to the Trump administration have met little success, with messages and other communications going unanswered.

US President Donald Trump, right, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, February 15, 2017. (AFP/Saul Loeb)

US President Donald Trump, right, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, February 15, 2017. (AFP/Saul Loeb)

Since taking office on January 20, Trump has spoken by phone with Netanyahu twice and hosted him at the White House, reflecting what many say is the administration’s slant toward Israel.

Unnamed officials said last month that CIA chief Mike Pompeo paid a secret visit to Ramallah, and there have been reports of lower level contacts between officials in Washington and Ramallah.

Earlier on Thursday, Union of Reform Judaism head Rabbi Rick Jacobs met with Abbas and said that he learned from Palestinian officials that they had spoken with the Trump administration, confirming that US policy continues to support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Palestinian officials have expressed frustration over the White House initially appearing to back settlement building and refusing to commit to a two-state solution. In recent weeks, the administration has sent signals to Jerusalem that it does not support unbridled settlement construction or plans to annex some areas of the West Bank.

On Monday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said he had received a message from Washington against annexation proposals.

“We received a message directly — not indirectly, not a hint — from the US, that Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank means an immediate crisis with the new administration,” Liberman said.

Earlier on Thursday, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmed Trump’s pick for ambassador to Israel in a narrow vote. David Friedman’s nomination will now go before the full Senate for approval.

Friedman’s critics cited have his past skepticism of the two-state solution and his deep philanthropic investment in the settlement movement.

JTA contributed to this report.

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