WASHINGTON — Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told visiting White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan last week that he is prepared to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, despite the hardline nature of the new Israeli government, two officials familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel.
“The offer demonstrates the president’s seriousness,” a Palestinian official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Despite the extremist nature of this government and our experience with Netanyahu, we are not shutting the door to negotiations.”
The two leaders have not met for peace talks in over a decade.
In a rare interview that he gave last November, Abbas told Egyptian news network al-Qahira, “I know Netanyahu, we’ve worked together a lot, since the 1990s… and he is not a man who believes in peace. But I have no other choice but to deal with him.”
The last confirmed time Netanyahu and Abbas met for negotiations was in 2010, though they have greeted each other on the sidelines of several events, most recently at former president Shimon Peres’s funeral in 2016.
The two longtime leaders have publicly declared their willingness to meet a handful of times over the past 12-plus years since their last sit-down but those offers never came to fruition amid a lack of mutual trust.
Last Thursday’s offer by Abbas was the first since Netanyahu returned to the prime minister’s office for a sixth term. But prospects for such a meeting appear as unlikely as ever, as the PA continues to suffer from a lack of legitimacy in the eyes of most Palestinians and Netanyahu heads a coalition made up largely of lawmakers who oppose a two-state solution.
Asked Tuesday whether Netanyahu would be prepared to comment on a meeting with Abbas, the Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment.
Abbas also told Sullivan that he was prepared to halt measures against Israel at the UN and other international bodies for six months if Israel ceased “unilateral moves” in the West Bank for that same period of time, the Palestinian official said.
“Unilateral moves” are often used by the PA to describe steps such as settlement expansion, settler violence, the establishment of outposts, evictions, home demolitions, land expropriation and IDF incursions into the West Bank’s Area A, which the Oslo Accords places under Ramallah’s full control.
This offer too would likely be a non-starter for the new Israeli government, which was established with commitments to expand Israeli presence in the West Bank. And while Abbas may have proposed a temporary halt to targeting Israel at global forums, the PA’s cases at the International Criminal Court and the UN’s International Court of Justice do not appear reversible at this stage.
Along with the pair of proposals made by Abbas, the PA president also warned Sullivan that he was prepared to cut security ties with Israel in the coming months if Israeli unilateral measures continued without US pushback, the Palestinian official said.
The Israeli security establishment has long hailed coordination with PA forces as critical for combating terror and maintaining stability in the West Bank. While Abbas has previously praised the security ties as well, they are not particularly popular among the Palestinian public, and he has more recently made a habit of threatening to cut coordination amid growing frustration with Israel.
In 2020, he acted on the threat, halting security ties between Israeli and Palestinian forces for five months. He announced their resumption in November 2020 following the presidential election victory of Joe Biden, who campaigned on restoring the traditional US position in favor of the two-state solution.
But Ramallah has increasingly grown frustrated with the Biden administration as well, lamenting its failure to follow through on campaign promises to reopen diplomatic missions for the Palestinians in Jerusalem and Ramallah in addition to a perceived soft stance on Israel’s continued expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
A second official familiar with the Sullivan-Abbas meeting confirmed the details shared by the Palestinian official and said the US national security adviser did not directly respond to the PA president’s proposals. However, Sullivan urged Abbas to be more pragmatic, while assuring him that the Biden administration would push back forcefully against steps toward annexation, outpost legalization or changes to the status quo at Jerusalem’s flashpoint Temple Mount.