PA calls Negev Summit ‘cover-up for annexation,’ but doesn’t pan Arab states

Before joining counterparts in Sde Boker, Blinken holds talks with Abbas, who slams ‘double standard’ in desire to adhere to international law in Ukraine, not Palestine

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, right, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken deliver a joint statement following their meeting at the West Bank city of Ramallah, March 27, 2022. (AP Photo/ Nasser Nasser)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, right, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken deliver a joint statement following their meeting at the West Bank city of Ramallah, March 27, 2022. (AP Photo/ Nasser Nasser)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Sunday, ahead of a diplomatic summit with the foreign ministers of Israel, the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Egypt in the southern Negev Desert.

In a statement Sunday evening on the Negev Summit, the PA avoided condemning the Arab participants, while warning them that Israel was using the meeting to avoid dealing with the Palestinian issue.

“This Israeli mobilization aims to cover up its actions of deepening settlement expansion and creeping annexation, Judaizing Jerusalem and prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state,” the PA Foreign Ministry said.

During his meeting with Blinken, Abbas largely stuck to PA talking points, expressing commitment to a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 borders, condemning Israeli settlement expansion, and demanding adherence to international law, according to the Wafa official PA news outlet.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting at the Palestinian Authority headquarters in Bethlehem, January 23, 2020. (Alexander Nemenov, Pool via AP)

Abbas lamented that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine exposed a “flagrant double standard,” in an apparent shot at the West, which has come down hard against Moscow for violating international law while avoiding using similar language against Israel, which several major human rights organizations have accused of “ethnic cleansing and racial discrimination.”

Both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, the two main Palestinian factions, have avoided taking a stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Many Palestinians sympathize with Ukrainians and argue that there are parallels between Russia’s conquest of Ukraine and Israeli rule.

But historic ties bind other Palestinians with Moscow. Many studied in the former Soviet Union, which also provided aid and comfort for years to the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The PA president did make a point to thank the Biden administration for resuming aid to the Palestinians, largely through the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).

A child stands next to a sack of flour, as people come to receive food aid from a United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) distribution center in Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip, on February 2, 2020. (SAID KHATIB/ AFP/ File)

The US has already provided over half a billion dollars in aid to the Palestinians, including more than $417 million to UNRWA, $75 million aid for humanitarian projects carried out by the US Agency for International Development and $20.5 million in COVID and Gaza recovery assistance.

Earlier Sunday, Blinken participated in a ceremony in which he announced the third recipient of a USAID grant under the Middle East Partnership for Peace Act (MEPPA). $3.3 million grant was extended to EcoPeace, an organization of Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian environmentalists aimed at addressing the challenges of water scarcity and climate change.

Under MEPPA, the US will transfer $50 million annually in grant money over five years to grassroots organizations focused on Israeli-Palestinian cooperation along with Palestinian business development. Two other organizations were awarded $5.5 million in grant money earlier this month, though the US has kept their identities under wraps.

Abbas also urged the Biden administration to fulfill its pledge to reopen the US consulate in Jerusalem, which served as the de facto mission to the Palestinians before it was shuttered by former president Donald Trump in 2019.

Biden has dragged his feet on the move, given fierce Israeli opposition. US officials still say publicly that they plan to see the move through, but no plans are in the works to make that happen, according to three sources familiar with the matter.

The PA president expressed regret over Biden’s refusal to deem the 1987 Congressional legislation that maintains that the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) is a terror group as unconstitutional.

The Washington office of the Palestine Liberation Organization, November 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

This has hampered efforts to reopen the PLO’s diplomatic mission in Washington, which was also shuttered by Trump in 2018.

Palestinian officials have told The Times of Israel that Ramallah is willing to reform its controversial welfare policy, which includes payments to Palestinian security prisoners, if Biden spikes the 1987 law.

The PA has grown increasingly frustrated with the Biden administration, which, on the one hand, has renewed relations and aid to the Palestinians, and, on the other, has largely accepted the Israeli stance that the sides are not ready for a diplomatic initiative.

Facing an ever-intensifying financial crisis, officials in Ramallah said they do not have the luxury of waiting things out.

According to the US readout of his meeting with Abbas, Blinken insisted that the Biden administration is committed to a two-state solution. “The two sides are very far apart, so we’ll continue our work, step by step, to try to bring them closer. We’ll work to prevent actions by either side that could raise tensions,” he said.

Abbas is slated to host Jordan’s King Abdullah II on Tuesday in Ramallah, a meeting that Defense Minister Benny Gantz sought to take part in, until Prime Minister Naftali Bennett barred him from doing so.

Earlier on Sunday, Blinken held a roundtable discussion with Palestinian civil society leaders in East Jerusalem, thanking them for their role in strengthening Palestinian democracy. Among those present were lawyers fighting the Israeli eviction orders served against Palestinians in East Jerusalem, whom Blinken hailed for their work.

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