Abbas said to have refused US offer to meet Kushner, Arab leaders

Abbas said to have refused US offer to meet Kushner, Arab leaders

PA president rejected proposal, communicated via Egypt, for a joint sit-down last week on American peace plan, according to Al-Hayat

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas adressess the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 14, 2018. (ABBAS MOMANI/AFP)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas adressess the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 14, 2018. (ABBAS MOMANI/AFP)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is said to have refused an offer to hold a meeting last week with Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, also US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, and leaders of neighboring Arab countries, according to a report on Saturday in the London-based, Arabic-language newspaper Al-Hayat.

Citing an unnamed diplomatic source, the paper reported that Abbas viewed the offer as an attempt by the Americans to push the Palestinians into agreeing to a peace process favorable to Israel, while also achieving the “real objective” of closer Israel-Arab ties in the region.

The offer for the meeting was proposed to Abbas via Egypt during Kushner and Mideast peace envoy Jason Greenblatt’s most recent trip to the region. The two visited Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Egypt last week to discuss a much-anticipated Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, as well as enlist humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip. They did not meet with representatives from the Palestinian Authority, as Abbas cut off all contact with Washington over Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December.

During the visit, Kushner gave a rare interview to the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds in which he urged Palestinians not to let their “scared” leadership reject the Trump administration peace plan, and voicing doubt on whether Abbas truly wanted an accord.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2nd from right) meets at his Jerusalem office with the ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer (right); White House adviser Jared Kushner (center); US Ambassador David Friedman (second left); and special envoy Jason Greenblatt, on June 22, 2018. (Haim Zach/GPO)

“There have been countless mistakes and missed opportunities over the years, and you, the Palestinian people, have paid the price,” Kushner said, according to a transcript of the interview provided by the White House. “Don’t let your leadership reject a plan they haven’t even seen.”

The interview was seen as an attempt by the Trump administration to reach out to the Palestinian people, despite the official boycott.

The Palestinians have been furious with Washington. Last Saturday, hours before Kushner and Greenblatt met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the second time during the trip, senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat accused the US peace team of working to topple the Palestinian Authority.

Palestinian chief negotiator and Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), Saeb Erekat, speaks during a press conference in the West Bank city of Jericho on February 15, 2017. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)

Erekat claimed that during a previous meeting with Kushner and Greenblatt, Netanyahu said he was prepared to help address the humanitarian situation in Gaza with the tax revenues Israel collects on behalf of the PA. Ramallah officials, who have sought to squeeze the Strip’s Hamas rulers by withholding salaries and goods as a means of retaking power there, have said plans to fund infrastructure projects as a means of easing the humanitarian crisis there is tantamount to attempting to split Gaza from the Abbas-ruled West Bank.

No peace plan yet

The American envoys left the region without revealing the plan. On Friday, the Haaretz newspaper reported that Arab leaders have asked the White House not to reveal the details of the peace plan so as not to destabilize the entire Middle East

The officials said the plan’s failure to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state or address the issue of Palestinian refugees would enrage the region’s Arab population.

Officials in Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, which are all suffering their own domestic difficulties, told the US delegation that unveiling the plan could cause an “earthquake,” a Palestinian official told Haaretz.

“Egypt has no lack of internal problems with terror in the Sinai; Jordan is facing huge internal difficulties and dealing with the implications of the war in Syria; and the Saudis [are occupied] with Yemen and the struggle with Iran,” a Palestinian official told the paper.

In this Thursday, June 21, 2018 photo, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, center, meets with US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, second left, and Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt on the latest stop in a regional tour to discuss a blueprint for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, in Cairo, Egypt. (MENA via AP)

“If the administration suggested a plan without Jerusalem and without refugees, it would cause an earthquake. The implications could shake the stability of the entire region, and nobody wants that.”

Earlier this week, as he welcomed King Abdullah II of Jordan to the White House, Trump ignored a question about when the plan would be made public, answering only, “We’re doing very well” in the Middle East.

The Palestinian official also told Haaretz that representatives of Arab nations who met with Kushner and Greenblatt all presented the Americans with a united front on any peace deal, saying it had to include the establishment of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital.

According to the official, this disagreement led the parties to subsequently switch their focus to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and ways to resolve it.

Israel is in talks with Cyprus on construction of a seaport to allow shipments to Gaza which would not have to go through Israel first. Israel is also reportedly planning to build a new solar field to end the electricity crisis in the coastal enclave.

Kushner and Greenblatt’s trip came after weeks of deadly violence along the Gaza border, with tens of thousands of Palestinians taking part in the ongoing Hamas-backed “March of Return” protests at the border.

Gaza faces shortages of electricity and drinkable water. Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade on the Strip that they say is designed to prevent Hamas from importing weapons and other goods that could be used to build military equipment or cross-border tunnels.

The deteriorating living conditions have been cited by security officials as a factor fueling the violent clashes on Israel’s border.

Eric Cortellessa contributed to this report.

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