US President Joe Biden asked Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for his cooperation as he looks to leverage the Abraham Accords normalization agreements between Israel and several Arab states to advance measures that benefit the Palestinians, a senior administration official told The Times of Israel.
The PA until now has balked at requests to join multilateral initiatives that team up Israel with its new Arab allies, arguing that the Abraham Accords are an attempt to bypass the Palestinian issue.
Abbas did not commit to changing his tune during his meeting with Biden in Bethlehem earlier this month, where the request was made, and his office has yet to get back to the White House on whether it is willing to get on board, the senior US official said Thursday.
“We’ve made very clear that normalization and the implementation of the Abraham Accords is happening. This is a trend, and for the Palestinians to try to stand against it is not in anyone’s interest,” said a second senior US official. “We have found the Arab capitals are very supportive of folding Palestinians into Abraham Accords efforts and we’ve increasingly found the Israelis to be so as well.”
Prime Minister Yair Lapid agreed at March’s Negev Summit with Arab nations to have each of the six working groups established by member states — on national security, education, health, energy, food security and tourism — also work to promote measures to boost the Palestinians in their respective area of focus.
The idea was proposed, however, after Lapid rejected a request by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to establish an additional working group to advance the Palestinian issue, two Middle East diplomats said at the time.
Nonetheless, one of the first fruits of the US effort was announced during Biden’s trip. Included among the package of steps the US said Israel would advance for the Palestinians was a plan to keep the Allenby Bridge crossing between the West Bank and Jordan open 24/7 by September 30.
Israel’s Transportation Ministry later issued a statement acknowledging that the initiative was the result of cooperation with Morocco. Morocco’s Transportation Minister Mohammed Abdeljalil raised the idea when he met with his Israeli counterpart Merav Michaeli on the sidelines of the International Transportation Forum in Germany in May.
Michaeli agreed to advance the issue and a phone call later took place between US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf and Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita in order to move the matter along.
In the weeks leading up to the trip, though, officials in the Israeli Defense Ministry began to express reservations, the second senior administration official said, adding that US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides was instrumental in getting the announcement over the finish line. Jordan also played a role in the negotiations, the official said.
Unlike the White House announcement, though, Michaeli’s statement on Allenby did not include a deadline by which the crossing will begin to operate 24/7. A spokesman for the minister said the timing will depend on when the office is able to secure enough staff to keep the bridge open around the clock.
A Palestinian official familiar with the matter said Ramallah is under the impression that the September 30 deadline is unrealistic and that there is widespread skepticism as to whether this or any of the other measures unveiled by the US will be implemented, given that several of the gestures have been announced by Israel before.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz expressed his support for the Biden administration’s efforts to utilize the Abraham Accords to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.
“I believe that we can leverage the Abraham Accords and ties with regional partners in order to strengthen the Palestinian Authority and promote confidence-building measures,” he said during a live interview at the Aspen Security Forum.