Palestinians say they won’t attend US-led conference on Middle East

After US official says PA officials were invited, top negotiator says summit in Warsaw aims to ‘destroy the Palestinian National project’

Saeb Erekat speaks during a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on September 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)
Saeb Erekat speaks during a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on September 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)

The top Palestinian peace negotiator said Friday the Palestinian Authority would not send representatives to a US-led conference in Poland next week on the Middle East, after an American official said they had been invited.

“Regarding statements that we have been invited, we can say that only today there was some contact from the Polish side,” Saeb Erekat wrote on Twitter.

“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,” he added.

Erekat’s statement came after a White House official told reporters the Palestinians had been invited to the conference in Warsaw, which is expected to focus on Iran and Middle East security.

The joint US-Polish conference, which was first announced last month by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, will be held on February 13 and 14 and host ministers from across the globe.

“The Warsaw Conference is an attempt at bypassing the Arab Peace Initiative and destroying the Palestinian National project,” said Erekat, referring to a Saudi proposal to extend Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for a pullout to the pre-1967 armistice lines and a “just solution” for Palestinian refugees.

In this photo from July 17, 2018, Palestinian protestors hold portraits of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and US President Donald Trump during a rally in support of the Fatah party in the West Bank city of Nablus. (AFP Photo/Jaafar Ashtiyeh)

His statement came a day after the Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Ministry called the conference an “American conspiracy.”

The PA has boycotted the American administration since President Donald Trump’s 2017 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a move it said meant the US could no longer serve as a mediator in peace talks.

Ties between the sides have continued to fray since then, with the US moving to end aid it provides to Palestinians and cut funding PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s refusal to enter negotiations and Ramallah’s payments to terror convicts and their families.

According to the US official, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner will discuss the White House’s peace efforts during the conference and take questions from the audience.

“We would very much welcome the Palestinian Authority’s perspectives during the discussion, but I do want to emphasize this is not a negotiation but a discussion, and we look forward to fostering a constructive conversation in Warsaw,” the official was quoted saying by Reuters.

In this Thursday, June 21, 2018 photo, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, center, meets with US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, second left, and Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt on the latest stop in a regional tour to discuss a blueprint for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, in Cairo, Egypt. (MENA via AP)

Kushner will be accompanied in Warsaw by Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s envoy for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Along with US envoy on Iran Brian Hook and other administration officials, the two are headed to the Middle East later this month to brief diplomats in at least five countries on the economic section of the US peace proposal.

Stops are confirmed in Oman, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Other stops could be added to the trip, according to a White House official.

The plan includes an economic development proposal for Palestinians that foresees major infrastructure and industrial work, particularly in Gaza. For the plan to succeed or even pass the starting gate, it will need at least initial buy-in from both Israel and the Palestinians as well as from the Gulf Arab states, which officials say will be asked to substantially bankroll the economic portion.

A senior US official told The Times of Israel this week that a date for the peace plan’s rollout has not yet been decided and there are “numerous considerations” that may play a role and push its release back to mid-May at the earliest. These include the Israeli elections (April 9) and subsequent coalition building process, the Passover holiday (April 19-26), Ramadan (May 5-June 4), and Israeli Memorial and Independence Days (May 7-9).

Agencies contributed to this report.

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