US ambassador to join meeting with Palestinian negotiators
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US ambassador to join meeting with Palestinian negotiators

In policy change, David Friedman reportedly to accompany envoy Greenblatt to Jerusalem talks on restarting peace process

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

File: US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman at a ceremony for new ambassadors at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on May 16, 2017. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Pool/Flash90)
File: US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman at a ceremony for new ambassadors at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on May 16, 2017. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Pool/Flash90)

US President Donald Trump’s special envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process Jason Greenblatt was scheduled Tuesday to meet with Palestinian negotiators, and in an unusual development, US Ambassador David Friedman will also attend.

The meeting was to be held in Jerusalem and is aimed at negotiating a restart of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. US Consul General in Jerusalem Donald Blome, who is in charge of ties with the Palestinians, will also reportedly be at the talks.

Friedman, as envoy to Israel, is responsible for ties with the Jewish state and his presence at the table marks a change in US diplomacy said to have been ordered by Trump himself.

A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed to Haaretz that Friedman will be at the meeting and noted that Trump has made it clear he wants the ambassador to be a key member of the US negotiating team, along with Trump’s son-in-law and special adviser Jared Kushner.

On the Palestinian side will be chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, head of Palestinian intelligence Majed Faraj, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s economic adviser, Mohammad Mustafa.

According to the report, when Trump met with Abbas in Bethlehem during the US president’s visit to the region in May, he demanded to know why Friedman was not also in attendance. US officials informed him that it was against established guidelines and although Trump let it pass, he later ordered the policy changed to enable Friedman to be at meetings.

Greenblatt, who arrived in Israel on Sunday, met with Abbas three weeks ago during a previous visit. Kushner was also at the meeting but Abbas refused to let Friedman participate, Palestinian officials told Haaretz, as the Orthodox Jewish ambassador is seen as “hostile” due to comments he made during Trump’s election campaign in which he expressed open support for the Israeli settler movement.

The practice of the US ambassador to Israel taking part in meetings with the Palestinians was stopped during the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations. Previously, under Bill Clinton in 1999-2000, Martin Indyk did participate in such meetings. After Indyk’s tenure the restrictions were laid down.

The report said that since Tuesday’s meeting is only with negotiating team staff, the Palestinians agreed to let Friedman attend.

On Sunday the White House said in a statement that while the primary purpose of Greenblatt’s trip “is to meet with the ambassador now that the ambassador is on the ground and fully installed in his position, Greenblatt will also likely be taking meetings relevant to both the Israelis and the Palestinians.”

“This trip is an interim visit as talks continue about potential next steps. President Trump has made it clear that working toward achieving a lasting peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians is a top priority for him,” the statement added.

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