Putting skepticism on hold, Abbas backs US peace push in Kushner meeting

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas set aside weeks of widespread and vocal pessimism over US peace efforts, saying that a deal with Israel is not impossible during a meeting with senior White House adviser Jared Kushner Thursday.

Meeting with Kushner and other US officials in Ramallah, Abbas expressed optimism that a deal could be reached, despite complaints from the PA in recent days over a lack of seriousness from the White House in its efforts to broker an elusive agreement.

“We know that the this issue is difficult and complex, but nothing is impossible in the face of good efforts,” Abbas said during the parley with Kushner, according to official PA news outlet Wafa.

Kushner, who is also Trump’s son-in-law, arrived in Israel Wednesday evening as part of a trip to the region aimed at looking for way to jumpstart peace talks. Kushner is accompanied on the trip by peace envoy Jason Greenblatt and Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategy Dina Powell. They met earlier Thursday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Abbas had reportedly sought a US commitment to endorse the two-state solution, but despite a State Department spokesperson saying Wednesday that doing so would bias Washington, the Palestinian leader still gave the US team his vote of confidence in official remarks.

“We affirm that this [US] delegation is working toward peace, and we are working with it to achieve soon what Trump called the ‘peace deal’,” Abbas said.

US President Donald Trump (L) and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas leave following a joint press conference at the presidential palace in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on May 23, 2017. (AFP/ MANDEL NGAN)

In his remarks carried by Wafa, Kushner did not mention a two-state solution and only offered vague sentiments about peace in the future.

“President Trump is very optimistic and hopes for a better future for the Palestinian people and the Israeli people,” Kushner said.

“We hope they can work together and live together for many years and have a much better life,” he added.

The delegation arrived in Israel after several meetings with other leaders around the Middle East on the topic, including in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, right, poses for a photo with White House adviser Jared Kushner, in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017. (MENA via AP)

“We have been sent today from Washington to talk about a very important topic — the peaceful relations between the countries of the whole region,” Kushner said.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Malki told the official Voice of Palestine radio that the US delegation was expected to bring with them answers to the questions posed by the Palestinian leadership, especially regarding the position of the US towards the two-state solution and the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders.

He said the answers of the delegation will make it clear to the Palestinians “if there is a historic opportunity that would allow continuation of a peace process that is going to lead to an end to the Israeli occupation or if all these visits are just a waste of time.”

A picture taken on August 24, 2017 in the West Bank city of Ramallah shows a Palestinian holding a burnt flyer depicting US President Donald J. Trump defaced with cartoon shoes on his head, during a protest against the arrival of a US delegation headed by Senior White House Advisor Jared Kushner to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. / AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI

Also on Thursday, Ahmed Majdalani, a senior Palestine Liberation Organization official who is close to Abbas, said that one option if no progress is reached would be to dissolve the Palestinian Authority — a threat that has been made in the past.

But at the same time, Majdalani said the Palestinians could also unilaterally declare statehood.

He said it was an option under consideration because “the American administration has not presented any initiative until now, while the Israelis continue with their settlement activities and refuse to abide by obligations they signed up to.”

Abbas reportedly told Israeli left-wing politicians recently that despite more than 20 meetings with US officials he was still unclear what Trump’s strategy was.

“I don’t even know how they are dealing with us, because his entire administration is in chaos,” Abbas told a delegation of dovish Israeli lawmakers visiting Ramallah.

Ahead of the US delegation’s meeting with Abbas, dozens of Palestinians protested in Ramallah against alleged favoritism by the US toward Israel, burning flags and pictures.

One of the demonstrators held a sign of Kushner being held on a leash by Ivanka Trump, who says “Kushner is our dog” while wearing a dress with the Israeli flag. The protester led the crowd in chants of “The American is not welcome; the dog that serves Tel Aviv.”

Palestinian demonstrators protest against the US delegation headed by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner ahead of its scheduled meeting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, on August 24, 2017. (Flash90)

Recently, off-the-record remarks by Kushner — made to a casual gathering of congressional interns — were leaked to the media in which he said there may not be a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Before meeting with Abbas, Kushner met with Netanyahu in Tel Aviv.

“So I am happy to see you and the effort you’re leading on behalf of the [US] President [Donald Trump] with Jason [Greenblatt] and other members of your team,” the prime minister said. “I think this is a sign of the great alliance between us and the great goals that guide us.”

Kushner told Netanyahu that Trump is “very committed” to help broker a peace deal and thanked the prime minister for working with the White House toward that goal.

L-R: Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, US President Donald Trump's Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategy Dina Powell and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman meet in Tel Aviv on August 24, 2017. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

“The president is very committed to achieving a solution here that will be able to bring prosperity and peace to all people in this area,” he said.

“We really appreciate the commitment of the prime minister and his team to engaging very thoughtfully and and respectfully in the way that the president has asked him to do so.”

Kushner also said “the relationship between Israel and America is stronger than ever and we really thank Prime Minister Netanyahu for his leadership and his partnership.”

Netanyahu said he believed peace was “within our reach.”

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