Abbas met with US businessmen to set up back channel to Trump
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Abbas met with US businessmen to set up back channel to Trump

US hedge fund manager close to Jared Kushner reportedly told PA leader in Ramallah meeting that US is serious about moving embassy

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gestures on January 6, 2017, in Beit Sahur, near the West Bank city of Bethlehem. (AFP/Hazem Bader)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gestures on January 6, 2017, in Beit Sahur, near the West Bank city of Bethlehem. (AFP/Hazem Bader)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met with American businessmen in Ramallah earlier this month in an attempt to set up a back channel for contacts with the incoming Trump administration.

On January 2, Abbas met in Ramallah with Palestinian pharma billionaire Adnan Mjalli, who owns businesses in the US and elsewhere, and Jewish American hedge fund manager Daniel Arbess.

The Times of Israel has learned that the purpose of the meeting was to set up an indirect diplomatic channel between Abbas and President-elect Donald Trump via the businessmen.

Arbess was dispatched to Ramallah to send messages to Abbas and relay his responses back to Washington, ahead of Trump’s inauguration on January 20. However, he was not directly sent by Trump.

Arbess is considered to be close to Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is expected to take up a senior White House role in the new administration.

Adnan Majali (screen capture: YouTube)
Adnan Majali (screen capture: YouTube)

During the meeting, Arbess convinced Abbas that Trump is serious about moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, according to Haaretz, which first reported on the meeting.

However, last week, Abbas told members of Israel’s left-wing Meretz party he did not believe Trump would move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.

Also present at the meeting was senior Palestine Liberation Organization negotiator Saeb Erekat and Palestinian security chief Majed Faraj.

Daniel Arbess (screen capture: YouTube)
Daniel Arbess (screen capture: YouTube)

Senior officials in the PLO said the Palestinians are still weighing what steps to take should Trump go through with his promise to move the embassy, despite warnings and denunciations from the Palestinians, the outgoing US administration and others.

The PLO has already said it will revoke its recognition of Israel in response to the move. On top of that, it may also demand that Washington recognize the Palestinian right to East Jerusalem, should the US recognize West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The last three successive presidents have maintained that the future status of Jerusalem should be settled in final negotiations between the parties, as both Israelis and Palestinians claim the city as their rightful capital.

But Trump has indicated since his victory in November he will no longer honor that tradition. In December, he nominated his longtime friend and attorney David Friedman, a vocal supporter and donor to West Bank settlements, to be the next US ambassador to Israel

In a statement announcing the selection, Friedman said he expected to carry out his duties in “Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”

According to reports, Trump’s advisers are already in the process of planning the relocation. Campaign manager and soon-to-be White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said it was “a very big priority for him.”

Donald Trump, left, shakes hands with Jared Kushner, husband of his daughter Ivanka, during a campaign stop at Concord High School, January 18, 2016, in Concord, NH (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Donald Trump, left, shakes hands with Jared Kushner, husband of his daughter Ivanka, during a campaign stop at Concord High School, January 18, 2016, in Concord, NH (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Earlier this week, Abbas sent letters to Trump and other world leaders urging that the US Embassy not be moved.

In his letter to Trump, Abbas argued the move will “likely have a disastrous impact on the peace process, on the two-state solution and on the stability and security of the entire region, since Israel’s decision to annex East Jerusalem contradicts international law.”

Last week, Abbas invited Trump to visit the Palestinian territories, but also said moving the embassy was a red line whose crossing the Palestinians would not tolerate, and such a move would throw the peace process into a crisis it would not necessarily be able to overcome, according to Israel Radio.

Erekat to travel to Paris pow-wow

Abbas had been expected to travel to Paris for talks with French President Francois Hollande on the sidelines of the international Middle East peace summit to be held there Sunday. But sources said Friday Erekat will travel in Abbas’s stead as the official PLO representative there.

An official in Hollande’s office said Thursday that Abbas would travel to Paris in the coming weeks for “bilateral talks.”

On Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the conference as “rigged,” and said his government would not abide by the results of the summit.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat speaking at the J Street Conference in Washington on March 23, 2015 (screen capture: YouTube)
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat speaking at the J Street Conference in Washington on March 23, 2015 (screen capture: YouTube)

Netanyahu has said instead that he is willing to hold direct talks.

Hollande stressed that the Paris conference would be an occasion “for the international community to underscore its interest in a two-state solution and the need for direct dialogue between the two sides,” the president’s office source said.

The Palestinians have welcomed the multilateral approach, saying years of negotiations have failed to yield results.

Eric Cortellessa and Dov Lieber contributed to this report.

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