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Hosting Biden’s security adviser, Abbas urges closer US-Palestinian ties

PA president tells Jake Sullivan that Israel must stop ‘unilateral practices’ that undermine two states; US official says Palestinian prisoner payments also on agenda

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (R) meets with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in the West Bank city of Ramallah, December 22, 2021. (Wafa)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (R) meets with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in the West Bank city of Ramallah, December 22, 2021. (Wafa)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas hosted visiting US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan for talks in Ramallah on Wednesday night, telling him that obstacles to closer American-Palestinian ties “must be surmounted,” according to a readout from Abbas’s office.

The Palestinian Authority recently restored formal ties with the United States after a four-year boycott that followed former president Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the American embassy there.

But the renewed relationship has been plagued by difficulties: Ramallah has asked the Biden administration to allow it to reopen the Palestinian mission in Washington and for the US to reopen its consulate in Jerusalem.

Although the administration has signaled support for both requests in principle, political obstacles have hindered their implementation. Israel unequivocally opposes the consulate’s establishment in its capital, as Israeli officials view it as a mission to the Palestinians.

Meanwhile, the United States has consistently demanded that the PA reform its controversial prisoner payments system, which hands out stipends to Palestinians jailed, wounded or killed by Israel. The welfare also goes to those convicted of brutal terror attacks, leading critics to argue it incentivizes violence.

The payments are popular domestically, as many Palestinians view them as compensation for what they see as an unfair Israeli military justice system. But they have been widely condemned abroad. Since 2018, American law has prohibited federal aid to Ramallah as long as it continues the practice.

“On the question of payments, we’ve had a clear and consistent position on this: that we’re fundamentally opposed to those payments. And so, I’m sure that’ll be a topic of discussion as well,” a senior US administration official told reporters on Tuesday night, prior to Sullivan’s meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials.

Sullivan met with senior Israeli officials — including Prime Minister Naftali Bennett — earlier on Wednesday. Sullivan told the premier that the two countries are at a “critical juncture” in facing a major set of security issues, and need to “develop a common strategy” that serves both their interests.

Joining Sullivan in Israel are US envoy to the Middle East Brett McGurk and the State Department’s Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Yael Lempert.

The senior administration official told reporters on Monday that Sullivan was not delivering any new information to Israeli officials during this trip.

“It’s a visit that was long-planned, the culmination of a year of very close consultation,” the official said in response to a question from The Times of Israel. “So, there’s not — you know, there’s not a new deliverable or anything. This is part of a face-to-face engagement with close partners.”

During their meeting on Wednesday night, Abbas reiterated his message to Sullivan that Israel must stop expanding settlements, halt evictions of Palestinians in East Jerusalem neighborhoods, respect the fragile status quo at the Temple Mount holy site, and stop deducting funds from tax revenues it transfers to Ramallah.

“The president stressed the need to stop these unilateral Israeli practices that undermine the two-state solution,” Abbas’s office said.

Sullivan, for his part, repeated America’s stated commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to the statement.

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