Abbas may cut off cash to Gaza, marking break with West Bank

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is set to issue a dramatic ultimatum to the Gaza Strip’s terrorist Hamas rulers, demanding that they either hand over governance of the area or face a funding freeze, sources close to the Palestinian leader said.

Should the PA stop all payments to the Gaza Strip it would mark a complete break between the West Bank, which Abbas controls, and the coastal enclave, which is ruled by Hamas. Needless to say, such an ultimatum would significantly ramp up tensions between Abbas’s Fatah party and Hamas.

Hamas seized power in Gaza from the PA in a violent coup in 2007. Israel and Egypt then initiated a blockade officially geared toward preventing the terror group, avowedly committed to the destruction of Israel, from importing weaponry and materiel into Gaza.

While a PA threat to sever ties with Gaza might sound not sound like a major shift — the PA doesn’t exercise control of the coastal enclave – for Palestinians, the move would have dramatic and far-reaching implications.

First, it would constitute official recognition of the split between Gaza and the West Bank, a divide that over the past decade Fatah and Hamas refused to acknowledge.

A Palestinian woman helps her son study by candlelight, at their makeshift home in the Khan Yunis refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip, April 19, 2017. (AFP/MAHMUD HAMS)

Further, a decision by the PA to stop paying Gaza’s bills, including for power and water, would be very noticeable on the practical level. For one thing, the acute energy crisis in Gaza would get much worse. Until recently, at least, the PA paid for the fuel for Gaza’s power station, which ground to a halt last week after running out of oil, leaving the Strip’s two million residents without power for most hours of the day.

Ramallah also pays for the medical treatments that Palestinians from Gaza sometimes qualify for in Israeli hospitals, such as chemotherapy and complex surgeries.

Gaza supporters of the Palestinian Hamas movement hold crossed-out portraits of Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas (C) and prime minister Rami Hamdallah during a protest on April 14, 2017, in Khan Yunis. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

Should the PA cut off funding, its not clear how Hamas could react. The group could try and cover the bills itself, or try to bring international and Arab pressure on the PA and Israel by painting them as imposing a terrible siege on Gaza, leading to thousands starving.

Hamas could also instigate a confrontation with Israel to extract itself from mounting internal pressure over the Strip’s economy, as it did in 2014.

Members of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the militant wing of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, patrol during a rally to mark Land Day near the Israeli border with east Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, March 30, 2017. (AFP/SAID KHATIB)

Among Fatah’s leadership there is a consensus supporting the measure. More than one senior official told The Times of Israel that there is no sense in maintaining the current situation.

“This time, Abbas is serious” one official said on condition of anonymity. “He doesn’t plan to drag things out and is unwilling to allow Hamas to continue to play games and drag its feet. It can either hand over authority in Gaza to us, or take responsibility and start to pay.”

Officials said that while Hamas is collecting tens of millions of dollars in taxes from the residents of Gaza, it is in no hurry to help the PA pay to run the Strip.

“It’s incomprehensible,” one official said. “In the past 10 years Hamas’s coffers have been enriched by more than a billion dollars in taxes, and yet they never shared the [financial] burden of the Strip. They invested most of it in their military wing.”

Seeking to put pressure on Hamas, Abbas has recently slashed the salaries of thousands of former civil servants in Gaza and imposed a tax on fuel shipments to Hamas-ruled Gaza.

Senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya holds a press conference on April 18, 2017 in Gaza City. AFP / MAHMUD HAMS)

Senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya told reporters on April 18 that Abbas’ threat to take “unprecedented steps” to restore political unity to the Palestinian territory would not succeed.

“Gaza can’t be threatened or terrified and Hamas doesn’t accept threats,” he said.

Al-Hayya called on Abbas to reverse the measures

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UK withholding diplomatic visa from incoming Palestinian envoy — Abbas

Britain has so far refused to grant a diplomatic visa to the newly appointed Palestinian Authority representative to the United Kingdom, PA President Mahmoud Abbas said on Monday.

In an interview with the Pan-Arab daily al-Quds al-Arabi, Abbas admitted the UK had thus far held off on granting Maen Areikat, the former Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) representative in Washington, the same status as his predecessor in London Manuel Hassassian, in what appears to be a sign of ambivalence over Areikat’s diplomatic status.

“We asked the British government to treat the new envoy as it had treated the previous ambassador. It should not change its treatment as that would mean bad will and misconduct from Britain, and we will have a position and reaction to that,” Abbas said, after being asked if it was true that Areikat had not been given the sought-after documentation.

When asked if he knew the British were attempting to reduce the diplomatic standing of the PA’s envoy to London, Abbas responded: “The British are trying to scale back and are trying to put restrictions and obstacles. But we told them that we want to be treated like before, to deal with the new ambassador just like the former ambassador.”

Former head of the Palestinian delegation to Washington, Maen Areikat. (screen capture: YouTube/CNN)

The Palestinian office in London was upgraded into a diplomatic mission in 2011.

“The consultations are not over yet. I do not think it is a big problem,” Abbas added.

However, when asked if the PA would act in kind against Britain, Abbas responded: “All possible options will be open to us.”

Abbas did not explain why the British were withholding a diplomatic visa for Areikat.

The British consulate in Jerusalem did not respond to an inquiry on the matter.

The diplomatic dust-up comes as Palestinians have threatened legal action against the British government if it does not retract its intention to celebrate the centennial of the Balfour Declaration.

The Balfour Declaration, a document signed on November 2, 1917, by foreign secretary Arthur James Balfour, announced his government’s intention to facilitate “a national home for the Jewish people” in the Land of Israel.

Abbas said during the interview with Al Quds al Arabi that the PA was continuing with its plans to sue over the declaration.

Palestinian officials have long branded the Balfour Declaration a “crime,” and last July officials in Ramallah announced plans to sue the British government over the document, viewed in Israel as an important step toward the country’s creation.

Lord Arthur Balfour and the Balfour Declaration (Wikimedia commons)

Abbas has spoken out against the centennial celebration of the document at nearly all of his recent major international speeches, including most recently at the Arab Summit in Jordan last Wednesday.

He has also called on the UK to apologize for the declaration and do so by recognizing the state of Palestine.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with his British counterpart, Theresa May, in London on Monday, February 6, 2017 (Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during an official visit to the UK in February that an invitation he received from British Prime Minister Theresa May to attend November’s centenary celebrations of the Balfour Declaration in London “speaks volumes” about Jerusalem’s relationship with Downing Street.

“While the Palestinians want to sue Britain for the Balfour Declaration, the British prime minister is inviting the Israeli prime minister to an event to mark the 100th anniversary of the declaration. That speaks volumes,” Netanyahu said.

Will the Arab Summit make Abbas great again?

The Arab League Summit set to begin Wednesday in Jordan comes at an opportune moment for Mahmoud Abbas. The Palestinian Authority president has been gaining momentum since US President Donald Trump invited him to visit the White House earlier this month. Like a powerful gust, Trump’s brief phone call to Abbas lifted him out of political isolation and set him up for success at the annual gathering of Arab leaders.

Previous months had largely soured the 12th year of what was meant to be Abbas’s four-year presidential term.

First the Saudis turned off the cash tap to the PA. Then Abbas’s ally Egypt embraced one of his most potent potential challengers, Mohammad Dahlan, and warmed relations with his bitter political rival Hamas, the terror group in control of the Gaza Strip.

Additionally, it emerged that Egyptian and Jordanian leaders had met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a secret summit in Aqaba, organized by the US without Abbas’s knowledge. Making matters worse, the Saudis reportedly agreed to join the initiative should the summit produce actionable solutions. (It didn’t.)

There was also a new sheriff in Washington, and the administration was taking its time contacting Ramallah, prompting further anxiety in the Muqata’a, Abbas’s seat of power, that the PA would be frozen out. It wasn’t until nearly a month into Trump’s presidency that Palestinian security officials got to meet their American counterparts.

In this March 26, 2014 photo, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends the closing session of the Arab League Summit at Bayan Palace, Kuwait. (AP Photo/Nasser Waggi)

In this March 26, 2014 photo, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends the closing session of the Arab League Summit at Bayan Palace, Kuwait. (AP Photo/Nasser Waggi)

But since March 10, when Abbas received that White House invitation in a brief-yet-fateful phone call, the Palestinian leader has met Trump’s peace envoy Jason Greenblatt as well as the emir of Qatar, and spoken twice on the phone with King Abdullah II of Jordan. Most importantly, he met with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi after 10 months without any official talks between the two leaders.

His talks with Abdullah and Sissi were geared toward closing ranks and coordinating positions with them on the Palestinian issue, as both men are slated to meet with Trump in Washington before Abbas does.

Heading into the Arab Summit, Abbas, no longer facing the prospect of being sidelined by the new administration, will be looking to solidify a unified Arab front on the peace process — and his indispensability to it.

A Palestinian draft statement for the summit calls on the Arab states to “reaffirm their commitment to the two-state solution and to the right of the State of Palestine to restore its sovereignty over the territories occupied in 1967, including east Jerusalem.”

It further calls on “all countries to respect UN Security Council resolutions that reject Israel’s annexation of occupied east Jerusalem” and urges countries “not to move their embassies” from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a reference to Trump’s campaign pledge, which has since been relegated to a back burner.

The draft was approved by Arab foreign ministers at an eve-of-summit meeting in the Jordanian Dead Sea resort of Sweimeh.

Abbas has also said he will seek to have the Arab states recommit to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, rather than some regional plan that might be cooked up behind his back in a forum similar to the abortive summit in Aqaba last year. Netanyahu has recently been touting Israel’s improving ties with Sunni Arab states as an avenue for bypassing the Palestinian Authority en route to a regional deal, and Trump, during a meeting with the Israeli leader in February, seemed receptive to the idea.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, left, greets Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during his inauguration ceremony at the presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, on June 8, 2014. (AP/MENA)

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, left, greets Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during his inauguration ceremony at the presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, on June 8, 2014. (AP/MENA)

The Arab Peace Initiative offers Israel full relations with dozens of Arab and Muslim states in exchange for withdrawal from all lands captured in 1967 as well as a “just solution” to the Palestinian refugee problem.

Ghaith al-Omari, a fellow at the Washington Institute think tank and a former political adviser in the Palestinian Authority, told The Times of Israel that he believes Abbas will try to use the summit to shore up his legitimacy, and will succeed in doing so — but perhaps only for the short term.

“Unless the Arab Summit is followed up by something serious in Washington, it will be just like the UN strategy, with short-term benefit but no long-term [path] to legitimacy,” Omari said in a phone interview Monday, referring to Abbas’s strategy over recent years of having Palestine accede to various international bodies.

Palestinians celebrating in the West Bank city of Ramallah after the UN General Assembly voted to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state on Thursday (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

Palestinians celebrating in the West Bank city of Ramallah after the UN General Assembly voted to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state, November 2012. (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

Omari pointed out that Abbas’s trip to Washington, which is reportedly set for mid-April but has no official date, might not go as planned. Trump, known for his unpredictability and volatility, could pressure Abbas on domestic issues, such as incitement against Israel, or try to corner him into moving on to a regional track for negotiations rather than the bilateral approach Abbas has been demanding, he said.

“If this meeting with Trump ends up being a one-off that concludes with a negative dynamic, then Abbas’s isolation would be even deeper after that. So there is an opportunity but also a great risk for him,” he added.

Ghaith al-Omari, a fellow at the Washington Institute. (courtesy)

Ghaith al-Omari, a fellow at the Washington Institute. (courtesy)

Omari explained that much of the consensus around the Palestinian issue is due to behind-the-scenes work by the Jordanians, whose primary interest right now is to ensure that the Arab Summit goes on without a hitch.

He pointed out that the recent meeting between Abbas and Sissi was reportedly coordinated by Amman.

“If there is a US-led peace process, domestic [Palestinian] challenges will recede. But the sources of the tension are still there. They have not been fixed. He will get, in my view, a degree of a honeymoon with the Arab countries until his meeting with Trump. After that, it will depend on the content of the meeting,” Omari said.

As for the prospect of consensus during the Arab Summit, Omari was skeptical it could lead to any real change.

“The Arab Summit,” he said, “is almost a laundry list that has to be checked. And then people proceed to ignore it.”

Abbas said invited to White House mid-April

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will travel to Washington mid-April to meet with US President Donald Trump, Palestinian media reported Saturday.

There was no immediate confirmation of the report from the White House.

The report of Abbas heading to Washington came just after Trump’s Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt visited Israel and the West Bank.

Trump spoke to Abbas for the first time over the phone last week and invited the Palestinian leader to the White House in the near future.

“President Trump has extended an official invitation to President Abbas to visit the White House soon to discuss ways to resume the political process, stressing his commitment to a peace process that will lead to a real peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis,” Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said at the time.

Abbas was scheduled to visit Cairo on Sunday at the invitation of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Army Radio reported. The two were expected to discuss Trump’s initiative to reenergize the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

The summit follows two months of tensions between the PA leadership and Egypt, which included the expulsion of Palestinian official Jibril Rajoub after his arrival in Cairo.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (right) meets with Jason Greenblatt, the US president's assistant and special representative for international negotiations, at Abbas's office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, March 14, 2017. (WAFA)

Abbas told Trump’s special peace envoy Greenblatt on Tuesday that he believes a “historic” peace deal with Israel is possible with Trump in office, according to a US Jerusalem Consulate General readout.

During a meeting at the Palestinian Authority’s headquarters in Ramallah, Abbas committed to combat Palestinian incitement, the statement said. The Palestinian leader and Greenblatt also discussed building up the PA’s security forces, advancing the peace process, and improving the Palestinian economy.

According to the readout, Abbas told Greenblatt that “he believes that under President Trump’s leadership a historic peace deal is possible, and that it will enhance security throughout the region.”

“President Abbas committed to preventing inflammatory rhetoric and incitement,” the statement added.

The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been adamant that PA-sanctioned media and school curriculum are responsible for inciting terrorism.

Abbas told Greenblatt that the Palestinians see the two-state solution as their “strategic choice.”

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, February 15, 2017. (AFP/ SAUL LOEB)

The PA leader said he was “looking forward to discussing the possibilities for peace directly with President Trump during his upcoming visit to Washington,” the readout said.

Greenblatt described the meeting on Twitter as a “positive, far-ranging exchange about the current situation.”

The Palestinian daily al-Quds cited sources in the US Congress who said Greenblatt warned Abbas that US lawmakers are working to condition US aid to the Palestinians — with the exception of security assistance — on ending incitement, including payments to the families of Palestinian terrorists.

The PA pays monthly stipends to families who have a member who is considered to have been “martyred,” which usually means being killed by an Israeli while carrying out a terror attack or suspected attack, or who is spending time in Israeli prison for perpetrating a terrorist act.

The US government has already taken measures to ensure its aid isn’t funneled to the families of terrorists. That includes paying the debts of the PA directly, rather than transferring funds into the PA’s coffers.

Abbas has called numerous times to reinstate the US-Palestinian-Israeli tripartite anti-incitement committee, including at the Seventh Fatah Congress in December. The committee was formed as part of the Wye River Memorandum in 1998, and met every two months until the outbreak of the Second Intifada in September 2000. However, images depicting and glorifying attacks on Israelis have also been posted on Facebook pages associated with Abbas’s Fatah party.

Abbas and Greenblatt also “reaffirmed the US and the Palestinian Authority’s joint determination to combat violence and terrorism,” the US readout said.

Prior to meeting Abbas in Ramallah, Greenblatt met with a group of Palestinian hi-tech entrepreneurs, Greenblatt said on Twitter.

During the meeting With Abbas, Greenblatt also discussed “plans to grow the Palestinian economy and the importance of ensuring economic opportunities for Palestinians, which would enhance the prospects for a just, comprehensive and lasting peace,” the readout said.

After the meeting, Greenblatt toured the Jalazone refugee camp in Ramallah.

Assistant to the President and Special Representative for International Negotiations, Jason Greenblatt meets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, Monday, March 13, 2017. (Photo Credit: Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv)

Greenblatt told Netanyahu during their talks last week that “enabling the growth of the Palestinian economy and improving the quality of life for Palestinians” were important to Trump. The prime minister replied that he was “fully committed to broadening prosperity for Palestinians,” seeing the issue “as a means of bolstering the prospects for peace.”

On March 10, Trump held his first phone conversation with Abbas, inviting him to visit the White House “soon.”

Abbas said that his phone conversation with Trump was “constructive” and that the US president had “confirmed his full commitment to the peace process.”

He added: “We will continue to cooperate with [Trump], in order to arrive at a comprehensive and just peace that will bring security and stability to everyone.”

The US administration is currently said to be weighing how to proceed with a renewed peace effort after Abbas’s visit to Washington. One possibility being considered is a regional summit, to be held in Egypt or Jordan.

‘THE TIME HAS COME TO MAKE A DEAL,’ TRUMP TELLS ABBAS

 

WASHINGTON/JERUSALEM — A comprehensive agreement settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would advance peace across the region and the world, US President Donald Trump told Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a phone call on Friday, according to a readout of the conversation released by the White House.

In his first call with the Palestinian leader, Trump said: “Peace is possible and that the time has come to make a deal,” underscoring that an agreement must be negotiated directly between the two parties.

 

“The United States will work closely with Palestinian and Israeli leadership to make progress toward that goal,” the White House said.

“The president noted that the United States cannot impose a solution on the Israelis and Palestinians, nor can one side impose an agreement on the other.”

Trump invited Abbas to visit Washington for consultations “very soon,” Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeinah told Wafa, the official PA news site.

A Palestinian source, who was present during the phone call, said the call lasted 10 minutes and was cordial.

The source added that the topics of settlement construction and the American embassy were not discussed.

According to Abu Rudeinah, Abbas stressed his firm belief “in peace as a strategic choice to establish a Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel.”

Abbas called Jordan’s King Abdullah II shortly before and after his conversation with Trump, amid reports that the US president’s team is eyeing a regional approach to a new Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

PA representatives and Trump administration officials have only met twice since the president assumed office, while two top Israeli officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have already made official visits.

In early February, PA General Intelligence chief Majid Faraj and National Security Council officials met in the US capital. A week later, Abbas and CIA Director Mike Pompeo met in Ramallah, a day before Netanyahu arrived in Washington to hold talks with Trump.

Trump cast doubt on the US’s longtime commitment to the two-state solution, speaking at a press conference on February 15 when Netanyahu visited Washington. “I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like… I can live with either one,” Trump said.

Friday’s call comes a week before Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s adviser for international negotiations, plans to visit the Middle East. Greenblatt is slated to visit Jerusalem and Ramallah to discuss a variety of issues pertaining to the peace process.

Ever unpredictable, Trump throws Mahmoud Abbas a lifeline

US President Donald Trump’s phone conversation Friday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, during which the PA chief was invited to visit to the White House in the near future, has produced considerable optimism in Ramallah.

The American president, whom Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu anticipated would be far more supportive of Israel than his predecessor Barak Obama, went out of his way in the call to leave Abbas feeling upbeat, PA officials said Saturday.

Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh reported soon after the call on Friday that Trump stressed his “commitment to a peace process that would lead to a real peace between Palestinians and Israelis,” and he hailed the new president as “a very honest man, very courageous man, looking for a deal, a just deal.”

The White House invite was not just extended as “a formal invitation,” one Palestinian official elaborated on Saturday. Rather, Trump made plain “that he wants to host the rais (chairman) as his personal guest.”

The call left the PA leadership with the clear sense that Trump wants to see an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, and intends to work for one.

Palestinian officials have held lower-level talks with officials in the new administration in recent weeks, sources in Ramallah said at the weekend, and concluded that Trump neither wants to impose terms of his own nor to have either one of the sides seek to impose terms. In other words, he will oppose any Palestinian efforts at unilateral action, and, similarly, will oppose dramatic Israeli settlement growth and/or annexation of parts of the West Bank.

Adnan Mjalli (screen capture: YouTube)

The new administration, these officials said, is taking a particular interest in the Palestinian economy, and has been meeting with prominent Palestinian businessmen, including pharma billionaire Adnan Mjalli. Mjalli has apparently operated a back-channel between the White House and Abbas’s Muqata’a headquarters, and is seen as a possible new PA prime minister.

If the Palestinians are correct, then Trump is plainly living up to his unpredictable reputation — defying expectations, this time, when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, February 15, 2017. (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

Trump was certainly the gracious host to Netanyahu at the White House last month. Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer is in close, ongoing contact with presidential son-in-law and potential peace broker Jared Kushner. And Trump’s phone call to Netanyahu on Monday, when the prime minister was in the midst of an uncomfortable session of questioning by police over corruption allegations, was nicely timed to enable a break, coincidentally or not.

Nonetheless, unlike Candidate Trump, President Trump is not talking of quickly relocating the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. And far from giving a carte blanche for settlement expansion, he publicly urged Netanyahu to “hold back” a little on settlements and said in an interview that settlements are “not a good thing for peace.” He may have declared lightly that he would be happy with a one-state, two-state or any other solution acceptable to both sides, but he hasn’t rushed to negate the two-state solution, and his administration has recommitted to it. And Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said last week that the administration had made plain its opposition to the annexation of Ma’aleh Adumim or any other parts of the West Bank, and that defying this position would be harmful to US-Israel ties.

These, to put it mildly, are not the positions some on the Israeli right had been expecting the Trump Administration to take.

And now, at least in the Palestinian telling, Trump has begun to revive Abbas — drawing the endlessly embattled PA chief back to center-stage. Abbas, whom Israel’s leadership routinely brands “irrelevant,” “not a partner,” and “not genuinely seeking peace,” will soon be on his way to Washington.

It’s not only Israel that has been criticizing Abbas. Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has been undermining the PA president, boosting his rival Mahmoud Dahlan, and cozying up to Hamas, at every opportunity for months.

Trump’s invitation thus constitutes a political lifeline for Abbas. The PA president can hardly be derided as irrelevant if he’s being hosted by the president in Washington, DC.

Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner arrive for a joint press conference by US President Donald Trump and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the East Room of the White House on February 15, 2017 in Washington, DC. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)

Trump’s special Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, once a student at Har Etzion yeshiva, will be visiting Jerusalem and Ramallah on Tuesday. CIA chief Mike Pompeo met with Abbas in Ramallah last month. There are even some indications, emphatically unconfirmed at this stage, that Kushner and Ivanka Trump will soon visit the area, and will call in on Abbas.

If Egypt has been working against him, Jordan’s King Abdullah has been energetically championing Abbas’s cause in Washington. It was not by coincidence that Abbas spoke with the king shortly before Trump called, to coordinate, and updated him soon afterwards on the conversation.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis greets Jordan's King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein during an honor cordon at the Pentagon, Monday, Jan. 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

All of this adds up to more than the faint indication that the Trump administration may be about to plunge into the quicksand of attempted Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. On the campaign trail, Trump acknowledged that this would be hardest of all deals, and maybe its purported impossibility is what he relishes.

The bar right now is so low that even bringing Abbas and Netanyahu together for a photo opportunity on the White House lawn would constitute quite an achievement. Both men would pay a price back home for such an appearance, but if Donald Trump were to invite them, it might be an offer they could not refuse.

Trump invites Abbas to White House ‘soon’ to discuss stalled peace process

US President Donald Trump and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas held their first conversation on Friday since the controversial real estate mogul took office in January, with the president formally inviting the Palestinian leader to the White House for a meeting.

“The president emphasized his personal belief that peace is possible and that the time has come to make a deal,” the White House said. “The president noted that such a deal would not only give Israelis and Palestinians the peace and security they deserve, but that it would reverberate positively throughout the region and the world.”

During the conversation, the US president invited Abbas “to visit the White House soon to discuss ways to resume the [Palestinian-Israeli] political process,” Wafa quoted Abbas’s spokesman as saying.

The spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, said that Trump stressed his “commitment to a peace process that would lead to a real peace between Palestinians and Israelis”, Wafa reported.

Abbas told Trump that peace was a “strategic choice” for the Palestinian people that should lead to the “establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.”

The report made no mention of the two-state solution, which the Trump administration appeared to distance itself from last month ahead of Trump’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

At a joint press conference with Netanyahu on February 15, Trump said: “I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like.”

Rudeineh said after Friday’s call that the Palestinians were “ready to deal with President Trump and the Israeli government to resume the negotiations. If the Israelis are ready, President Abbas has committed himself to a peaceful deal with President Trump.”

Rudeineh went on to add that “President Trump is a very honest man, very courageous man, looking for a deal, a just deal.”

Ahead of the conversation with Trump Friday, Rudeineh said the PA president spoke to Jordanian King Abdullah II to coordinate stances on the peace process.

The phone call between the two ended nearly two months of what Palestinian officials said had been near-total silence between Ramallah and the new administration.

The conversation came days before Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s special envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, is expected to sit with Abbas and Netanyahu in separate meetings during his first visit to the region in that role.

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 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 had complained several times that attempts to reach out to the new Trump administration 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.

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.

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.

ABBAS TO EXPAND OUTREACH TO AMERICAN JEWISH COMMUNITY

 

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas intends to increase outreach to the American Jewish community, said Husam Zomlot, who was recently appointed ambassador- at-large to the United States.

His comments followed a meeting between Abbas, Union of Reform Judaism president Rick Jacobs and some 30 other Reform Jewish leaders at the Mukata, the PA presidential headquarters in Ramallah on Thursday.

 

“This will not be a one-time meeting,” Zomlot, who attended the meeting, told The Jerusalem Post during a phone interview. “The president sees the mainstream Jewish community in the United States as a force for peace that can help us advance the cause of the two-state solution and combat voices of extremism.”

Top Palestinian officials have historically maintained ties with some left-leaning Jewish-affiliated groups in America, such as J Street and Americans for Peace Now.

The Union for Reform Judaism has consistently backed a two-state solution and expressed criticism of Israeli settlement building.

Zomlot, who is slated to arrive in Washington in late March to begin his new role, added that Jacobs will be setting up a meeting for him with a number of American Jewish leaders after he arrives in the American capitol.

Jacobs was not available to comment on this report.

“The meeting today made it clear that we see eye-to-eye with the Reform movement, which represents more than a third of the American Jewish community,” Zomlot remarked. “I believe that we have a shared vision, and the need for cooperation has never been more timely.”

Zomlot said both Abbas and Jacobs affirmed their support for a two-state solution and opposition to settlements in Thursday’s meeting.

Abbas has consistently stated his support for a two-state solution since becoming president of the PA in 2005 and has engaged in a number of negotiations with Israel. Over the past several years, however, Abbas has attempted to realize a two-state solution through international institutions rather than direct engagement with the Israeli government.

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.

Abbas to Africa: Put Palestinian plight ahead of forging ties with Israel

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday urged African nations not to bolster their ties with Israel at the expense of the Palestinians, and accused “Israel of doing all that it can to undermine” Palestinian statehood.

Israel has embarked on a diplomatic push over the past year to bolster ties with several African countries, but Abbas told African leaders at the 28th summit of the African Union that they should look beyond whatever interest they have in forging ties with Israel.

“We urge you that this should not be done at the expense of the just cause of our Palestinian people, which still needs your help to get rid of the abhorrent Israeli occupation,” Abbas said in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, according to a report in the official PA news outlet Wafa.

Improving ties with Africa has been one of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s key foreign policy priorities, which led to his July visit to four countries in Eastern Africa, where he met with seven heads of state. Two months later he held a meeting with more than 15 African leaders on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with African leaders in Uganda on July 4, 2016 (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Abbas told the crowd in Addis Ababa that he looks forward to the “developing role and status of Africa in international forums…and we hope we can count on their brotherly support in those forums.”

The Palestinian leader said he supports Africa having a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.

He also thanked the African nations who voted in favor of the recent of UNSC resolution 2334, which condemned Israeli settlement building. These states were Senegal, Angola, and Egypt.

But he said the prospects of realizing a two-state solution were being imperiled by moves made by Israel, apparently referring to announcements last week of approval for some 3,000 homes in West Bank settlements and East Jerusalem.

“The achievement of a just and comprehensive peace through a two-state solution is in danger,” he said. “Israel is doing all that it can to undermine the chances of establishing an independent Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem through the continuation of the occupation and the continuation of settlement building, creating a one-state reality with an apartheid system imposed on our people.”

During his speech, the Palestinian leader emphasized the need to implement the agreement of the International Peace Conference held in Paris earlier this month, in which 70 countries reaffirmed that a two-state solution is the only one acceptable, and set up an international monitoring group to help the two sides to make peace in a specific timeframe.

Abbas also said he was still willing to accept the offer of Russian President Vladimir Putin for a trilateral meeting in Moscow.

Back in September, a trilateral meeting in Moscow fell apart after the Palestinian and Israeli leaders each said the other had refused to go.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) shakes hands with PA President Mahmud Abbas, during their meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow on April 13, 2015. (AFP/ POOL / SERGEI ILNITSKY)

“We reaffirm that our hands are still outstretched in peace toward our Israeli neighbors,” Abbas said.

Abbas also restated that he is “looking forward to working with US President Donald Trump and his new administration in order to reach a just and comprehensive peace in the region.”

Earlier on Monday, PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki signed a Memorandum of Understanding between the PA and the Commission of the African Union.

In the deal, according to the report in Wafa, the parties agreed to work together in various areas of development, including health, agriculture, energy, environment, water, the promotion of women’s participation in civil society, and human rights.