Palestinians ask Arab countries to skip US-sponsored Mideast summit in Poland

Abbas travels to Riyadh to discuss ‘dangers facing the Palestinian cause’ as Ramallah asks Arab countries to boycott or downgrade their representation at Warsaw conference

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during the 32nd African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa on February 10, 2019. (SIMON MAINA / AFP)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during the 32nd African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa on February 10, 2019. (SIMON MAINA / AFP)

The Palestinians on Monday called on Arab nations to boycott or downgrade their representation at a Mideast summit co-hosted by the United States, as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas traveled to Saudi Arabia to discuss “the dangers facing the Palestinian cause.”

The conference in Poland is widely seen as a US-led effort to isolate Iran, which was not invited. The Palestinians cut off all contacts with the Trump administration after it recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017, saying it was unfairly biased toward Israel.

Abbas will meet King Salman to discuss “the current political situation and the dangers facing the Palestinian cause, especially Jerusalem,” the Palestinian leader’s office said.

The official Palestinian news agency WAFA quoted the Palestinian ambassador in Saudi Arabia as saying “the visit is a continuation of the communication between the two leaderships under difficult international circumstances, as well as attempts to terminate the Palestinian cause.”

A senior Palestinian official said the visit had come at the invitation of the Saudi king, and talks were expected to focus on a peace plan the US says it is working on. The Palestinians have preemptively rejected the plan, saying US President Donald Trump’s Mideast team is hopelessly biased.

The US has said the Warsaw conference is aimed at promoting peace and security in the Middle East. But it appears to be focused on building a united front against Iran, a country that both Israel and the Saudis see as a grave threat.

US officials say that Trump’s chief Mideast adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner will also discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is not clear if this will include details of his peace plan.

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki addresses the General Assembly prior to a vote on December 21, 2017, at United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Earlier Monday, the Palestinian foreign minister asked Arab countries to boycott or downgrade their representation at the Poland conference, which begins Wednesday.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are sending foreign ministers and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is attending.

Riyad al-Malki told the Voice of Palestine that the Palestinians “view the Warsaw conference as a plot against the Palestinian cause.”

Most Arab nations have refrained from establishing relations with Israel without significant progress toward peace with the Palestinians. But many Gulf states share Israel’s concerns about Iran’s growing influence.

Netanyahu is set to meet US Vice President Mike Pence and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the two-day conference, “Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Brasilia on January 1, 2019 (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Addressing concerns that the summit would focus too much on Iran, a senior American official said last month: “It’s important to underscore that this is not an anti-Iran meeting or coalition-building exercise.”

However, on Sunday Netanyahu said his focus would be the Islamic republic.

“The first issue on the agenda is Iran — how to continue preventing it from entrenching in Syria, how to thwart its aggression in the region and, above all, how to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said in his weekly cabinet meeting.

Chief Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat said last week the Palestinians would not attend.

“Our position remains clear: We are not going to attend this conference and reiterate that we have not mandated anyone to talk on behalf of #Palestine,” Erekat said.

The meetings are due to cover a range of issues including “extremism, missile development and proliferation, maritime trade and security, and threats posed by proxy groups across the region.”

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