PA’s Abbas hosts US House Speaker Pelosi for rare West Bank meeting

Palestinian president calls for strengthening bilateral ties amidst frustration in Ramallah over unfulfilled US pledge to reopen Jerusalem consulate

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (R) speaks with US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Ramallah, West Bank, on February, 17, 2022. (WAFA)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (R) speaks with US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Ramallah, West Bank, on February, 17, 2022. (WAFA)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met with United States House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and members of a Congressional delegation in Ramallah on Thursday, with the Palestinian leader saying the two sides must “overcome the obstacles on the path to ties.”

Pelosi was in Israel this week leading a delegation of eight Democratic Party lawmakers to the region. She met Prime Minister Naftali Bennett earlier on Thursday in Jerusalem.

The sit-down was a relatively rare high-level meeting between Abbas and a senior American politician. The PA saw only a handful of such visits in recent years when ties soured during former president Donald Trump’s administration.

Abbas used the opportunity to urge the top House Democrat to do more to end what he said were “unilateral Israeli actions” that threatened the eventual establishment of a Palestinian state, namely settlement construction, settler violence, evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes by Israel. Pelosi, for her part, stated her “commitment to peace on the basis of a two-state solution,” according to the PA’s official WAFA news agency.

The PA effectively cut ties with Washington in 2017 after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. During the Trump years, the US government also froze just about all of its aid to the Palestinians, shuttered the Palestinians’ mission in Washington as well as the US Consulate in Jerusalem, which was was the de facto representative office to the Palestinians.

After President Joe Biden entered office last year, relations have slowly improved. Biden has spoken with Abbas over the phone and resumed some aid to United Nations bodies that support Palestinians. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken paid a visit to Ramallah in May following the 2021 war between Israel and Hamas.

But officials in Ramallah have also expressed growing impatience with the pace at which Biden’s administration is moving. A particular bone of contention is the US consulate in Jerusalem.

US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi at the Knesset in Jerusalem, February 16, 2022 (Oliver Fitoussi/Flash90)

American officials, including Biden, initially pledged to re-open the Jerusalem consulate. But the plan has been effectively shelved amid Israeli objections, The Times of Israel reported in December.

“Even though a year of work by the Biden administration has gone by, in addition to our own positive involvement to strengthen our relations with them, we are still hoping to realize this,” Abbas said at a recent gathering of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah.

In a phone call last week, senior Fatah official Tawfiq al-Tirawi dubbed the American stances on Palestinian demands “unclear and impractical.”

Later in Ramallah on Wednesday, the House Democrats participated in the launching of a USAID project funded by Congress to invest in small and medium businesses impacted by the pandemic.

The lawmakers then held a roundtable discussion with Palestinian students. “Our delegation heard their desires for opportunity, safety, gender equality, education and peace as well as their eagerness for democratic elections in which they can fully participate,” Pelosi said in a statement, taking a subtle swipe at Abbas, who canceled elections scheduled for last spring that would have been the first national vote in 15 years. Abbas said he canceled the election due to Israeli refusal to allow balloting in East Jerusalem, but most analysts point to the likelihood of Hamas gains as the reason behind the decision.

During her own meeting with the Congressional delegation, PA Health Minister Mai al-Kaila thanked the US for donating vaccines to Palestinians through the UN’s COVAX initiative and the sides discussed the ongoing global challenges posed by the pandemic.

Earlier in the day, the visiting lawmakers received an educational tour of East Jerusalem from Daniel Seidemann, a dovish Israeli expert on the city who offered a rundown “on key flashpoints to watch that could spark discord and protests in East Jerusalem,” Pelosi’s office said.

Notably, the readout made no specific mention or criticism of Israel for the looming evictions of Palestinian families in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, which have sparked tensions in recent weeks.

The delegation met with Palestinian civic leaders in East Jerusalem as well, discussing “the importance of representational government, economic and infrastructure development, and equitable access to water, transportation and commerce,” according to the US readout.

“From meeting with the [PA] president and his leadership team, the prime minister, small business entrepreneurs, young student leaders, and the ministry of health team, our meetings were marked by candor and friendship and our commitment to a two-state solution,” Pelosi said.

The speaker also met with senior Israeli officials — including Bennett, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid — on Wednesday and Thursday.

“We repeatedly reaffirmed America’s commitment to a just and enduring two-state solution that enhances stability and security for Israel, Palestinians and their neighbors,” Pelosi said in a statement on Wednesday.

According to the Prime Minister’s Office, Pelosi and Bennett also discussed “the central strategic challenges facing Israel, most prominently the Iranian nuclear program.”

Bennett also thanked Pelosi for backing American funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system “and stressed the importance of completing the process as soon as possible.”

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