Jewish-American billionaire Ronald Lauder was reportedly dispatched by US President Donald Trump this week to meet with Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas in a bid to encourage Ramallah’s return to peace talks with Israel.
According to a Hadashot TV news report Thursday, Lauder met with Abbas “behind Israel’s back” and without the knowledge of Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, the two White House officials in charge of the Israeli-Palestinian peace portfolio.
The report, which was unsourced, said Lauder urged Abbas to work with the Trump administration to jump-start talks and told him he would be positively surprised by the US president’s peace plan, details of which have been kept carefully under wraps.
Lauder also met with Saeb Erekat, the top Palestinian peace negotiator; and the PA’s intelligence chief, Majid Faraj, the report said.
The White House swiftly denied the report. “Ambassador Lauder is a friend of the President but he was not sent by the White House to meet with the Palestinians on the President’s behalf — secretly or otherwise,” National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis said.
The PA has boycotted White House officials since Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017, and has rebuffed calls to return to the negotiating table.
Abbas last month told a group of former Israeli lawmakers that Lauder had proposed running a back channel between the PA leader and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but the initiative ultimately fizzled.
Abbas said Lauder, who has been involved as a conduit between Netanyahu and Arab leaders for decades, floated the idea to him several months earlier, according to former justice minister Yossi Beilin, who was at the meeting.
Abbas said he gave Lauder, who was once close to Netanyahu and is a friend of Trump, his commitment to participate in the channel of communication, but that nothing ever came of it, Beilin told The Times of Israel at the time.
An official in Abbas’s office, who asked to remain unnamed, said that Lauder had previously suggested running a back channel between the Palestinian leader and Netanyahu. The official, however, said that Abbas had told Lauder he would only participate in the line of communication if Israel enacts a freeze on settlement building.
Since the fallout over Trump’s Jerusalem recognition, the US made a number of other moves that have been denounced by the Palestinians, including ending its contributions to the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees, infuriating Abbas and other Palestinian leaders. It also announced the closure of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s diplomatic mission in Washington over what it said was the Palestinians’ refusal to engage in peace talks with Israel.
Lauder and Netanyahu’s relationship reportedly soured in 2011 after Channel 10, in which Lauder owns a stake, aired a documentary critical of Netanyahu’s wife, Sara.
Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.