The head of Palestinian intelligence has held talks with US security officials in the first such contacts between the Palestinians and the Trump administration, the AP news agency reported Thursday, citing an unnamed official.
The official said that Majed Faraj met with US security and intelligence officials in Washington over the past two days. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with protocol.
The Palestinian leadership said it has tried unsuccessfully to reach out to President Donald Trump since his election upset in November, and feared the possibility of being sidelined as the administration embraces Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who heads to the White House next week.
In December, the Trump transition team refused to meet with Palestinian officials visiting Washington, putting them off until after the Jan. 20 inauguration, according to senior Abbas aide Saeb Erekat, the main point man for official contacts with the United States. Other advisers say Abbas tried to arrange a phone call with Trump after the November election and again after the inauguration, but received no response to his requests. The White House did not respond to a January letter in which Abbas expressed concerns about possibly moving the US Embassy in Israel to contested Jerusalem.
Last week, senior Erekat said the White House had rebuffed every attempt to reach out to the new administration.
“We have sent them letters, written messages, they don’t even bother to respond to us,” he told Newsweek.
A strong relationship with the United States has been key to the Palestinian strategy for statehood. The US has served as the main broker in two decades of intermittent talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
Trump has said he wants to broker a peace deal, but many see his administration’s stance as being slanted in Israel’s favor. In the wake of his inauguration, Israel okayed some 6,000 new housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, with the White House largely remaining silent on the issue before finally issuing a critique that settlement expansion “may not be helpful.”
The Trump administration also kept mum on a controversial law passed earlier this week legalizing thousands of settler homes built on private Palestinian land, and which the Palestinians said amounted to “legalizing theft.”
But the Palestinians have been careful not to antagonize Trump with public statements, other than urging him to rein in Israel. They hope he’ll eventually get in touch, arguing that Trump needs to involve them if he’s serious about negotiating a Middle East peace deal.
“The foreign policy of the US administration is not clear yet, aside from its clear support of Israel, but the administration knows nothing can be done without the Palestinians,” said Abbas adviser Mohammed Ishtayeh.
During his campaign, Trump had also promised to relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move the Israelis warmly welcome and which the Palestinians, and the Jordanians, have warned against. Since his inauguration on January 20, he’s been more vague about that pledge.
Earlier Thursday, the New York Times reported that, in order to move ahead with the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, Trump was deliberating bringing in Arab states and embracing the “outside-in” approach favored by Netanyahu.
The article says that both Trump and his Jewish son-in-law Jared Kushner — who has been designated the point man for the Mideast peace process — have found the idea appealing after meeting with a number of Arab leaders since the president assumed office in January.
The State Department said last month that it was reviewing a last-minute decision by former Secretary of State John Kerry to send $221 million dollars to the Palestinians over the objections of congressional Republicans.
The department said Tuesday it would look at the payment and might make adjustments to ensure it comports with the Trump administration’s priorities.
The Obama administration had for some time been pressing for the release of the money, which comes from the US Agency for International Development and was to be used to fund humanitarian aid in the West Bank and Gaza, support political and security reforms and help prepare for good governance and the rule of law in a future Palestinian state, according to the notification sent to Congress.