Palestinian officials have reportedly said that while the US is pressing Ramallah to end payments to terrorists, the demand is not a precondition to restarting peace talks with Israel.
Even though the Palestinians have bitterly rejected the US demand, it should not stand in the way of moving ahead with the anticipated negotiations, the unnamed officials told Israel Radio on Saturday.
The reports came amid reports of growing tensions between US administration officials and the Palestinian leadership, and unconfirmed Palestinian claims that Trump envoy Jared Kushner warned the Palestinians that the US president might forego a US-led peace effort if he deems the Palestinians not to be serious about seeking progress. Kushner hinted to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that the US president might not pursue a peace bid in such circumstances, the London-based pan-Arabic daily al-Hayat reported.
According to Arabic media reports widely quoted in Hebrew media on Friday and Saturday, Wednesday’s meeting between Abbas and senior White House official Kushner reportedly left the Palestinian leader fuming — because the Americans were deemed to have taken Israel’s side on numerous issues — and refusing to agree to a watered-down US demand that Ramallah cut off payments for 600 convicted terrorists serving life-terms and their families.
Palestinian sources quoted in Hebrew and Arabic media on Friday said Abbas and his advisers accused the US of taking Israel’s side and refused a demand to stop paying salaries to the 600 prisoners serving time for the most serious crimes.
Kushner, who is Trump’s son-in-law and chief Middle East adviser, met with Abbas in Ramallah, along with Trump’s international negotiator Jason Greenblatt.
Israel Radio said that Palestinian officials expect that it will take the US team some six weeks to formulate a framework for renewing talks that have been on hold for several years.
However, al-Hayat reported Saturday that Kushner told Abbas that Trump would only make his decision on whether to push ahead with a peace initiative after he receives a briefing on the visit from Kushner.
Al-Hayat, citing Palestinian officials who participated in the meetings, said that Kushner and Greenblatt also criticized the PA and its leader for failing to condemn the terror attack near Damascus Gate in Jerusalem on Friday, June 16, in which Border Police officer Hadas Malka was stabbed to death.
Both US envoys paid condolence visits to Malka’s family.
The three attackers, who were killed by Israeli forces, came from the West Bank and were affiliated with various Palestinian groups.
Kushner and Greenblatt also complained that Abbas is refusing to meet with US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, al-Hayat said. Friedman is known for his past support for Israeli settlements and headed an organization that raised millions of dollars for the settlement of Beit El.
Kushner, making his first negotiating foray to the region, held two key meetings Wednesday — with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then with Abbas — before heading back to Washington.
Kushner began his meeting with Abbas by stating all the Israeli concerns, including stopping the payments to terrorists, according to Hebrew media reports, angering Abbas.
“The American delegation accepted Israel’s position with regard to paying salaries to prisoners,” a Palestinian source told Ynet, “and described it as a means of inciting terror, demanding it be stopped.”
According to reports in Arabic media, the Americans watered down their demand about payments to prisoners. Originally the US wanted all payments halted, but now they only want the Palestinians to stop paying salaries to some 600 prisoners serving life sentences who are responsible for the deaths of Israelis, Israel Radio reported, quoting Arabic media.
On Thursday Abbas defended payments to Palestinian prisoners, including convicted terrorists, as a “social responsibility,” and said Israel was using the issue as a pretext to avoid peace talks.
Later Thursday, senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat accused the Netanyahu government of taking extremist positions.
“Incitement and glorification of terror have been a longstanding policy by this extremist government,” Erekat said, and further accused Israel of trying to “deviate attention [from the stalled peace talks] by inventing new excuses, such as allegations of incitement.”
Palestinian sources said the US officials had also taken the Israeli stance regarding incitement.
“They sounded like Netanyahu’s advisers and not as honest mediators,” a Palestinian source told Haaretz.
“They began by presenting Netanyahu’s claims,” the source said. He said that Abbas asked the Americans about their position on major construction projects over the Green Line recently announced by Netanyahu, “the core issues of the conflict,” but didn’t get any answer.
“We told the Americans that the settlements were the source of the despair and terror because they remove any future hope for Palestinians to live in their own land,” a Palestinian source told Ynet.
The source said, “We don’t have great expectations from these negotiations, but why should we pay such a high price as ending salary payments?”
Abbas reportedly refused to end the payments to prisoners, but instead insisted on restarting the trilateral committee on incitement. The committee includes Israeli, Palestinian and American officials and was formed as part of the Wye River Memorandum in 1998. The committee met every two months until the outbreak of the Second Intifada in September 2000.
Earlier this week, Netanyahu accused Abbas of lying that he wants peace and “poisoning” the minds of young Palestinians, amid a resurgent efforts at peacemaking by the US.
Sitting down with Netanyahu on Wednesday before he met with Abbas, Kushner and other US officials discussed “potential next steps” to make progress on Trump’s goal of “a genuine and lasting peace” between Israelis and Palestinians, the White House said. The meetings are aimed at laying the groundwork for a resumption of negotiations for the first time in three years.
US sources confirmed that the payments to prisoners and incitement were discussed, but denied that they clouded the talks. They said that the talks mainly focused on hearing the Palestinian demands and their order of priority.
But hinting at challenges facing peace efforts, both sides “underscored that forging peace will take time and stressed the importance of doing everything possible to create an environment conducive to peacemaking,” a White House statement said.
A meeting between Trump and Abbas in Bethlehem in May was also reportedly tense, with the US leader angrily berating his counterpart over allegations of incitement.