Abbas to US envoy: Peace deal possible under Trump

PA president commits ‘to preventing inflammatory rhetoric and incitement’ in meeting with Jason Greenblatt

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (R) meets with Jason Greenblatt, Donald Trump's special representative for international negotiations, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on March 14, 2017. (Flash90)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (R) meets with Jason Greenblatt, Donald Trump's special representative for international negotiations, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on March 14, 2017. (Flash90)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told United States special peace envoy Jason Greenblatt on Tuesday that he believes a “historic” peace deal with Israel is possible with President Donald Trump in office, according to a US Jerusalem Consulate General readout.

During a meeting at the Palestinian Authority’s headquarters in Ramallah, Abbas committed to combat Palestinian incitement, the statement said. The Palestinian leader and Greenblatt also discussed building up the PA’s security forces, advancing the peace process, and improving the Palestinian economy.

According to the readout, Abbas told Greenblatt that “he believes that under President Trump’s leadership a historic peace deal is possible, and that it will enhance security throughout the region.”

“President Abbas committed to preventing inflammatory rhetoric and incitement,” the statement added.

The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been adamant that PA-sanctioned media and school curriculum are responsible for inciting terrorism.

Abbas stressed that the Palestinians see the two-state solution as their “strategic choice.”

The PA leader said he is “looking forward to discussing the possibilities for peace directly with President Trump during his upcoming visit to Washington,” the readout said.

The PA did not initially provide publish a readout of the meeting.

Greenblatt described the meeting on Twitter as a “positive, far-ranging exchange about the current situation.”

He added that he and Abbas “discussed how to make progress toward peace, building capacity of Palestinian security forces and stopping incitement.”

The meeting was attend by top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat; Abbas’s spokesperson, Nabil Abu Rudeineh; and head the of the Palestinian Authority’s General Intelligence services, Majid Faraj, according to images posted on the PA’s official news site Wafa.

The Palestinian daily al-Quds cited sources in the US Congress who said Greenblatt warned Abbas that US lawmakers are working to condition US aid to the Palestinians — with the exception of security assistance — on ending incitement, including payments to the families of Palestinian terrorists.

The PA pays monthly stipends to families who have a member who is considered to have been “martyred,” which usually means being killed by an Israeli while carrying out a terror attack or suspected attack, or who is spending time in Israeli prison for perpetrating a terrorist act.

The US government has already taken measures to ensure its aid isn’t funneled to the families of terrorists. That includes paying the debts of the PA directly, rather than transferring funds into the PA’s coffers.

Abbas has called numerous times to reinstate the US-Palestinian-Israeli tripartite anti-incitement committee, including at the Seventh Fatah Congress in December. The committee was formed as part of the Wye River Memorandum in 1998, and met every two months until the outbreak of the Second Intifada in September 2000. However, images depicting and glorifying attacks on Israelis have also been posted on Facebook pages associated with Abbas’s Fatah party.

Abbas and Greenblatt also “reaffirmed the US and the Palestinian Authority’s joint determination to combat violence and terrorism,” the US readout said.

The US is a major supporter of the PA’s security forces. A State Department official told The Times of Israel that the US has allocated $858,000,000 for PA security and justice assistance.

The US budgeted $54,824,000 to the PA for security and justice assistance in the 2016 fiscal year. However, it is unclear whether that money has been transferred to the Palestinians, after it was held up by the Trump administration.

Prior to meeting Abbas in Ramallah, Greenblatt met with a group of Palestinian hi-tech entrepreneurs, Greenblatt said on Twitter.

During the meeting With Abbas, Greenblatt also discussed “plans to grow the Palestinian economy and the importance of ensuring economic opportunities for Palestinians, which would enhance the prospects for a just, comprehensive and lasting peace,” the readout said.

After the meeting, Al-Jazeera reported that Greenblatt toured the Jalazone refugee camp in Ramallah. He was then slated to meet Palestinian security officials in Jericho and Palestinian businessmen in Jerusalem.

Greenblatt’s meeting in Ramallah followed a five-hour meeting with Netanyahu on Monday in Jerusalem. The two discussed opportunities for advancing peace between Israel and its neighbors, and tried to formulate a coordinated approach for the two leaderships on the issue of settlements.

Greenblatt told Netanyahu that “enabling the growth of the Palestinian economy and improving the quality of life for Palestinians” were important to Trump. The prime minister replied that he was “fully committed to broadening prosperity for Palestinians,” seeing the issue “as a means of bolstering the prospects for peace.”

On Friday, Trump held his first phone conversation with Abbas, inviting him to visit the White House “soon.”

Abbas said that his phone conversation with Trump was “constructive” and that the US president had “confirmed his full commitment to the peace process.”

He added: “We will continue to cooperate with [Trump], in order to arrive at a comprehensive and just peace that will bring security and stability to everyone.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Jason Greenblatt, US President Donald Trump's special representative for international negotiations, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, March 13, 2017. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Jason Greenblatt, US President Donald Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, March 13, 2017. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv)

On Monday, Al-Monitor reported a senior diplomatic source as saying Abbas was slated to travel to Washington in April.

The US administration is currently said to be weighing how to proceed with a renewed peace effort after Abbas’s visit to Washington. One possibility being considered is a regional summit, to be held in Egypt or Jordan. If such a summit would be substantive, rather than a mere photo opportunity, Trump would be prepared to attend, sources close to the president were quoted by the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth on Sunday as saying. The White House is trying to ascertain whether the Saudis can be drawn into this process, the newspaper said.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely told Army Radio Tuesday that Israel has not yet heard about any proposed Jordanian summit.

In Washington prior to the meeting, State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters Greenblatt would be doing “a lot of listening, discussing the views of the leadership in the region, getting their perspectives on the current situation and how progress toward eventual peace can be made.”

“I characterize it as the first of what will become many visits to the region,” Toner added.

There had been fears among the Palestinians that Trump would wholeheartedly adopt Israeli positions after he vowed to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv and gave indications he would be more accommodating to Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Since taking office on January 20, Trump has spoken by phone with Netanyahu twice and has hosted him at the White House.

But the US president has backtracked on a swift relocation of the US Embassy, and publicly urged Netanyahu — during their joint press conference last month — to “hold back” on settlement building.

Agencies and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed