Two weeks into his presidency, the administration of Donald Trump appears to be entirely ignoring Palestinian leadership.
On Friday, London-based Arabic-language newspaper A-Sharq Al-Awsat reported that Washington has not responded to overtures by the Palestinian Authority, reinforcing top negotiator Saeb Erekat’s claim to that effect earlier this week.
The Times of Israel has learned that Jason Greenblatt, the administration’s special representative for international negotiations, met on Friday with three Palestinian businessmen with close ties to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, and informed them that the administration does not intend to build relations with the PA at this juncture.
According to Palestinian sources, the three met Greenblatt in their capacity as businessmen, and not as formal representatives of the PA, although they did have Abbas’s blessing. The sources said the three told Greenblatt that they believe a strong Palestinian economy is essential for the two-state solution to become reality.
According to the Palestinian sources, Greenblatt told the three that, for now, the administration has no intention of engaging with the PA. It was understood that the administration will likely only do so after Trump meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on February 15, the sources said.
The three businessmen did not respond to efforts to reach them on Saturday evening.
A spokesperson for the US National Security Council denied Greenblatt had said the administration did not intend to engage Ramallah.
“Earlier this week, White House officials, including Jason Greenblatt, held a constructive introductory meeting with a group of Palestinian business leaders who were visiting Washington for meetings with US officials, Congress, and other organizations,” a statement from the NSC read. “This meeting was one of many such engagements the administration is conducting across all issue areas. The assertion that Mr. Greenblatt said that the United States does not intend to have a relationship with the Palestinian Authority at this juncture is false.”
American relations with the PA may soon be put to the test, in light of Trump’s repeated promises to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The prospect of a relocation has angered Palestinian and Arab leadership, with the former threatening such action would create a regional crisis.
Since his inauguration, Trump has appeared to back away from that pledge, saying in a recent interview that the move was “not easy” and giving it no more than “a chance” of occurring.
In another development that may encourage PA leadership, the White House said Thursday that settlement expansion “may not be helpful,” in a possible blow to Israeli leadership that has seen the Trump administration as wholly supportive of the settlement enterprise.
In late January, a senior Palestinian source told The Times of Israel that Washington froze the transfer of $221 million which was quietly authorized by the Obama administration in its final hours.
US officials conveyed to PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah that the funds were not expected to be handed over in the immediate future, said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Erekat lashed out at the White House on Monday, telling Newsweek that if Trump’s first days in office were representative of the shape of things to come, “God help us, God help the whole world.
“We have sent them letters, written messages, they don’t even bother to respond to us,” he said of the new administration.
“It’s time for President Trump to… focus on what this region needs,” Erekat said. “What we need in this region is peace, what we need in this region is dialogue, what we need in this region is to bring Israelis and Palestinians back to the table.”
On Thursday, Trump met with Jordan’s King Abdullah II at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC. According to Jordan’s official news agency Petra, the two “agreed on the need to intensify efforts to reach a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Stuart Winer contributed to this report.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the fact that the NSC denied Greenblatt said the administration did not intend to engage with the PA yet.