Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas did not snub a visiting delegation of Republican members of Congress, Fatah spokesman Osama Qawasma said on Wednesday, noting that they were informed five days ahead of time that he could not meet them.
Qawasma made the comment after the Jewish Insider reported on Tuesday that Abbas did not show up to a scheduled meeting with the Republican lawmakers, instead dispatching PA Prime Minister Moahmmad Shtayyeh and senior Palestine Liberation Organization official Saeb Erekat to meet with the group.
“The Republican congressional delegation was informed five days ago that the president would not be able to meet due to personal and family matters related to the Eid al-Adha holiday,” Qawasma, who attended the meetings between the Republicans and Shtayyeh and Erekat on Tuesday, told The Times of Israel.
“President Abbas will meet the Republicans next time and he is just as interested in meeting with them as he is meeting with the Democrats. I repeat that he was not able to meet for personal, not political, reasons,” he added.
A GOP lawmaker had said he believed Abbas cancelled due to anger with the Trump administration.
“He cancelled on the Republicans,” Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH) told the Jewish Insider, adding that he opted not to go to Ramallah once he found out that Abbas would not be attending.
“I think it’s because the administration has been awfully hard on Palestinians and very supportive of Israel — which is the right thing to do — and I think he saw the Republicans as maybe not worth his time,” Gonzalez said.
The Palestinians have significantly downgraded ties with the Trump administration since it recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Washington has also cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians.
While Abbas has stated in many speeches that the Palestinians cut ties with the White House, he has also mentioned that they have not stopped communicating with the US Congress.
The perception that Abbas snubbed the Republicans was bolstered by Abbas meeting with left-wing Israelis the same day.
Asked how Abbas was able to meet members of the Democratic Camp party on Tuesday but not the Republicans, Qawasma insisted that “the two are not connected.”
“He would have met them, if his schedule permitted him to do so. Unfortunately, with his holiday engagements, it did not work out this time,” he said.
Abbas met with Democratic Camp candidates Issawi Frej and Noa Rothman on Tuesday at his office in Ramallah.
A source familiar with the details of the Republican delegation’s trip, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed that trip organizers were informed several days ago that Abbas would not be able to meet them.
The 31 Republican lawmakers, including House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, arrived in Israel late last week as part of a trip organized by the American Israel Education Foundation, a group connected to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a Washington-based, non-governmental organization that works to strengthen ties between the US and Israel.
After touching down in Israel, McCarthy posted on Twitter that the Republican parliamentarians came to the Jewish state “to show unity in our support for Israel and her people.”
Last week, 41 Democratic lawmakers arrived in Israel as a part of a largely separate trip put together by the American Israel Education Foundation. On August 7, they met Abbas and several other high-ranking Palestinian officials.