US denies Kushner’s team told Abbas a settlement freeze would topple Netanyahu
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US denies Kushner’s team told Abbas a settlement freeze would topple Netanyahu

Senior White House official says al-Hayat report is 'nonsense' and that such comments 'were never made'

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

US presidential adviser Jared Kushner meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on June 21, 2017 (PA press office)
US presidential adviser Jared Kushner meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on June 21, 2017 (PA press office)

WASHINGTON — A senior White House official vehemently denied on Saturday reports that a US delegation tasked with trying to jumpstart Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations told Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that a West Bank settlement freeze was impossible and would result in the toppling of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

“This is nonsense,” a senior administration official told The Times of Israel. “These comments were never made.”

The pan-Arab newspaper al-Hayat reported earlier on Saturday that the Trump team, led by senior adviser Jared Kushner, told Abbas during a Thursday meeting in Ramallah that getting Israel to place a moratorium on settlement construction could not be a precondition for resumed peace talks and that building would continue.

Kushner, who is also Trump’s son-in-law, along with peace envoy Jason Greenblatt and Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategy Dina Powell, met with Abbas on Thursday as part of a trip to the region aimed at looking at trying to renew peace negotiations, which Trump himself has labeled a “top priority” for the administration.

Channel 10 reported Saturday night that the Palestinians, for their part, made clear to the Americans that they do not intend to halt their payments of stipends to Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. But this report, too, was denied by US sources, who said the subject was not discussed.

A picture taken on August 24, 2017 in the West Bank city of Ramallah shows a Palestinian holding a burnt flyer depicting US President Donald J. Trump defaced with cartoon shoes on his head, during a protest against the arrival of a US delegation headed by Senior White House Advisor Jared Kushner to meet with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)
A picture taken on August 24, 2017 in the West Bank city of Ramallah shows a Palestinian holding a burnt flyer depicting US President Donald J. Trump defaced with cartoon shoes on his head, during a protest against the arrival of a US delegation headed by Senior White House Advisor Jared Kushner to meet with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)

For weeks, Palestinian officials had expressed pessimism at US peace efforts, and Abbas had reportedly sought a US commitment to endorse the two-state solution.

Despite a State Department spokesperson declining to endorse a two-state solution a day before the meetings, and saying that would “bias” the US role in trying to mediate a resolution to the conflict, Abbas still gave the Washington officials his vote of confidence in remarks after the meeting.

Abbas expressed optimism that a deal with Israel could be reached with the help of “sincere” efforts from the Trump administration.

L-R: Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, US President Donald Trump's Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategy Dina Powell and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman meet in Tel Aviv on August 24, 2017. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
L-R: Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, US President Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategy Dina Powell and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman meet in Tel Aviv on August 24, 2017. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

“We affirm that this delegation is working toward peace, and we are working with it to achieve soon what Trump called the ‘peace deal,’” Abbas said.

In his remarks carried by the official PA news outlet, Wafa, Kushner did not mention a two-state solution and only offered vague sentiments about peace in the future.

“President Trump is very optimistic and hopes for a better future for the Palestinian people and the Israeli people,” Kushner said. “We hope they can work together and live together for many years and have a much better life.”

A joint statement issued after the Ramallah talks stated: “The Palestinian Authority and the US delegation had a productive meeting focused on how to begin substantive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Both sides agreed to continue with the US-led conversations as the best way to reach a comprehensive peace deal.”

A picture taken on August 24, 2017 in the West Bank city of Ramallah shows Palestinian demonstrators holding a cartoon depicting Senior White House Advisor Jared Kushner along with other slogans protesting against the arrival of a US delegation headed by Kushner to meet with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)
A picture taken on August 24, 2017 in the West Bank city of Ramallah shows Palestinian demonstrators holding a cartoon depicting Senior White House Advisor Jared Kushner along with other slogans protesting against the arrival of a US delegation headed by Kushner to meet with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)

The delegation arrived in Israel after several meetings with other leaders around the Middle East on the topic, including in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

Before meeting with Abbas on Thursday, the delegation met with Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, where Kushner told the prime minister that Trump is “very committed” to help broker a peace deal.

Kushner also said “the relationship between Israel and America is stronger than ever and we really thank Prime Minister Netanyahu for his leadership and his partnership.”

Netanyahu in response said he believed peace with the Palestinians was “within our reach.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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