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Abbas said to refuse call from Blinken, wants to hear from Biden first

While US president called Netanyahu, PA leader has not received same courtesy; efforts underway to arrange conversation between top American diplomat and PA premier Shtayyeh

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Mahmoud Abbas, left, and Joe Biden after their meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Wednesday, March 10, 2010. (AP/Bernat Armangue)
Mahmoud Abbas, left, and Joe Biden after their meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Wednesday, March 10, 2010. (AP/Bernat Armangue)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly refused to accept a phone call from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken a month and a half ago, demanding that the new administration’s first call come directly from the Oval Office.

However, more than two months into the new presidency, a call between US President Joe Biden and Abbas has not taken place.

Meanwhile, Biden has spoken twice with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — once after Biden’s election victory in November, and again several weeks after he entered the White House in February. The second call was widely covered by media in Israel and abroad, which noted that Netanyahu was not among the first world leaders to hear from the new American leader.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, upon rejecting Blinken’s call in February, Abbas noted that a secretary of state being the first in a new administration to call a foreign leader is against traditional protocol.

US officials have started planning a possible phone call between Blinken and PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh or senior PA official Hussein al-Sheikh, according to the report on Thursday.

On Feb. 26, 2021 Secretary Antony Blinken speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, Pool, File)

Despite the lack of direct communications between the leaders, the Biden administration has been quietly freeing up funds for Ramallah after the Trump White House cut off nearly all funding.

The US plans to send $40 million earmarked for the PA’s security forces, which work closely with their Israeli counterparts to combat terror in the West Bank, Kan reported.

This follows the $75 million in economic aid that the Biden administration told Congress last week it would be giving to the Palestinians in part to regain their “trust and goodwill” after the hundreds of millions of Trump-era cuts.

A day before that Congressional notification, the Biden administration announced that it would be sending $15 million in coronavirus-related aid to struggling Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Gaza.

The new funding represents a major shift in the US approach to the Palestinians after mutual recriminations during the Trump years.

The administration has made no secret of its belief that Trump’s approach, which alienated the Palestinians, was flawed and made prospects for peace less likely.

The Taylor Force Act passed by the US Congress in 2018 bars Washington from sending aid that will directly benefit the PA as long as Ramallah continues sending regular stipends to those convicted of acts of terrorism. However, the humanitarian aid announced last week would not violate the legislation, which the Biden administration has vowed to uphold.

A Palestinian pupil walks past United Nations Relief and Works Agency, (UNRWA) and USAID humanitarian aid, on June 6, 2010 in the Shatie refugee camp in Gaza City. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis, File)

The $15 million package also mirrors the $5 million in COVID-related assistance sent to the West Bank and Gaza in the Trump administration’s final months.

Before the Trump administration began tightening the screws on the PA in 2018 for refusing to engage with its peace efforts, the United States was the single largest donor country to the PA.

The US paid hundreds of millions of dollars a year to the PA’s creditors, such as the Israeli state utility companies from which the Palestinians purchase water and electricity. It also paid for training for the PA’s security forces and numerous infrastructure projects.

Washington also gave hundreds of millions a year in funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency — known as UNRWA — which is in charge of administering the daily needs of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees and their descendants across the Middle East. The Biden administration has stated that it plans to restart funding to UNWRA as well.

“This urgent, necessary aid is one piece of our renewed commitment to the Palestinian people,” said US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield when she announced the $15 million package last week. “The aid will help Palestinians in dire need, which will bring more stability and security to both Israelis and Palestinians alike. That’s consistent with our interests and our values, and it aligns with our efforts to stamp out the pandemic and food insecurity worldwide.”

Agencies contributed to this report.

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