Abbas’s son was part of PA delegation to meetings in Riyadh on Israel normalization

Yasser Abbas’s inclusion in talks with Saudi, US officials ‘jarring’ given his lack of formal role, says scholar; sides didn’t issue trip readout, allowing presence to go unnoticed

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Yasser Abbas is interviewed on February 24, 2017. (Screen capture/Facebook; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law))
Yasser Abbas is interviewed on February 24, 2017. (Screen capture/Facebook; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law))

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas sent his son Yasser as part of a delegation of his government officials to Riyadh last week to discuss a potential normalization agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia, two sources familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel on Thursday.

Yasser Abbas was included in the delegation — along with PA Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh, PA General Intelligence chief Majed Faraj and the PA president’s diplomatic adviser Majdi al-Khalidi — even though he is not believed to currently fill an official role in the government.

The younger Abbas participated in the Palestinian delegation’s meetings with senior Saudi officials, including Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan, along with a meeting with a US delegation led by White House Middle East czar Brett McGurk and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf.

Ramallah, Riyadh and Washington all chose not to issue readouts or pictures from last week’s meetings, which allowed Abbas’s inclusion to fly under the radar.

Washington Institute for Near East Policy senior fellow Ghaith al-Omari called Yasser Abbas’s inclusion in the delegation “jarring,” given that the president’s son “doesn’t have an official position and is not part of Palestinian political life.”

“It reinforces the sense among the Palestinian public that the PA is mismanaged, that the decision-making is temperamental and that nepotism is rife. There is no governmental logic for including Yasser Abbas in these meetings, and it bolsters the image of corruption that Palestinians have of the PA,” Omari said, citing a recent poll that found 81 percent of Palestinians view the PA as corrupt.

Mahmoud Abbas’s office did not return a request for comment.

Yasser Abbas, 62, is a businessman who lives much of the year outside of the West Bank.

Over the years he has taken part in official meetings with his father and has periodically been sent abroad with the title of special envoy to the president.

In 2009, a Reuters exposé revealed that Yasser Abbas’s Falcon Electro Mechanical Contracting Company had signed a $1.89 million contract with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to build a sewage treatment facility for the southern West Bank city of Hebron.

The contract was signed five months after Mahmoud Abbas became president, though Yasser Abbas’s lawyer told Reuters at the time that bidding on the contract had begun before his father entered office.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, left, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meeting in Riyadh on February 12, 2019. (Credit: Wafa)

During the PA delegation’s meetings last week in Riyadh, Saudi leaders assured them that they “will not abandon” the Palestinian cause as they engage in negotiations with the United States about a potential normalization agreement with Israel, a US official and an Arab official told The Times of Israel on Wednesday.

The message was passed along in multiple meetings that the PA delegation held with senior Saudi officials, including Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan, the officials said.

The PA delegation discussed a series of measures it would like to see advanced in the context of a normalization agreement between Israel and the PA, and the Saudi officials briefed the Palestinian delegation on the status of the talks with US President Joe Biden’s administration, which to date have largely focused on the US-Saudi bilateral relationship, the US and the Arab official said.

There will be follow-up conversations between US, Israeli, Palestinian and Saudi officials on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly next week, but Riyadh will likely need several months to study the issue further before raising specific demands in its talks with the Biden administration, according to the two officials.

The Arab official explained that Riyadh has made clear to Ramallah that it is prepared to depart from its long-held public stance against normalizing ties with Israel absent a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but the PA has come to terms with this development and accordingly is asking for measures that fall short of immediate statehood.

Gianluca Pacchiani contributed to this report.

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