US President Joe Biden reportedly rejected a request from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to meet last week on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
Citing US and Palestinian sources, the Axios news site reported Wednesday that Abbas and his aides inquired about the prospect of a meeting with Biden when considering whether to attend the annual gathering.
The Palestinians were told by the White House that Biden wouldn’t hold any bilateral meetings while in New York and was also unavailable to meet in Washington, according to the report, which said this message contributed to Abbas’s decision not to address the General Assembly in person and instead speak remotely by video.
The White House would not comment on the report, which noted Biden held several bilateral meetings during his brief stay in New York.
Biden has not made the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a top foreign policy priority since taking office. In his speech to the UN last week, Biden reiterated his support for the two-state solution but did not call for an immediate resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
His administration has instead been encouraging efforts to “advance peace” and Hady Amr, deputy assistant secretary of state for Israel and Palestinian Affairs, is due to visit Jerusalem and Ramallah next week, the Axios report said.
In his own UN speech, Abbas demanded Israel withdraw to the so-called 1967 lines within a year or face repercussions, while Prime Minister Naftali Bennett omitted the Palestinians altogether in his address to the General Assembly.
Bennett, who became premier in June, said in an interview this month that he sees no reason to meet Abbas, citing the PA’s pursuit of war crimes charges against Israel at the International Criminal Court (ICC) and continued payment of monthly stipends to security prisoners, including those convicted of killing Israelis.
He also reiterated his opposition to a Palestinian state, while voicing support for continued ties and connections with Palestinian officials in order to maintain calm and security coordination.
Despite Bennett’s remarks, there have been a number of high-level contacts between the new Israeli government and PA, including Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s meeting in Ramallah with Abbas, the first high-level face-to-face talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials in over a decade.
Israel and the PA historically maintain security cooperation in the West Bank that both see as vital. However, security ties were downgraded last year as ties with the Palestinians soured amid a flurry of moves by then-United States president Donald Trump that appeared to favor the Israeli position. Abbas said that the ties would be reinstated after Biden took office in January.