Top Abbas aide to meet with senior Biden officials in Washington next week

Hussein al-Sheikh likely to meet with national security adviser, CIA officials as Ramallah seeks to push US to play more active role in de-escalating and solving the conflict

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Secretary General of the Executive Committee of the PLO Hussein al-Sheikh at his office in Ramallah, June 13, 2022. (AP Photo/ Nasser Nasser)
Secretary General of the Executive Committee of the PLO Hussein al-Sheikh at his office in Ramallah, June 13, 2022. (AP Photo/ Nasser Nasser)

A senior minister and close confidant to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will travel this weekend to Washington where he will meet with top US officials, as the West Bank continues to experience one of the bloodiest periods in years.

The trip schedule for PA Civilian Affairs Minister and PLO Executive Committee Secretary-General Hussein al-Sheikh is still being finalized, but a US and a Palestinian official told The Times of Israel that it would in fact be taking place, confirming a Thursday report in the Haaretz daily.

Al-Sheikh is likely to meet with White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan as well as senior officials in the State Department and the CIA, an Israeli updated on the trip said.

The senior PA official is slated to urge the US to play a more active role in de-escalating tensions between Israelis and Palestinians and create a “political horizon” for Palestinian statehood that Ramallah says is critical for the economic steps being pushed by the US to be successful, a Palestinian official explained.

US President Joe Biden has been one of the first American leaders who has not unveiled a peace initiative, deeming the conditions unripe for high-stakes peace negotiations.

The position has gradually frustrated Palestinian officials and that anger seeped through during Abbas’s visit to New York last week to address the General Assembly.

A Palestinian throws stones at an Israeli military vehicle following a deadly operation in the West Bank city of Jenin on Sept. 28, 2022. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)

During a closed meeting with Palestinian Americans on the UN sidelines, Abbas revealed how he scolded US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, calling him a “little boy” for failing to use his bully pulpit to coax Israel into making peace.

In a recording of the meeting obtained by The Times of Israel, Abbas can be heard telling the meeting attendees he used to believe US administrations that claimed that Israel does not want peace. However, he now realizes that “it’s not that the Israelis don’t want peace but the Americans don’t want peace.”

Al-Sheikh was one of the few members in Abbas’s inner circle who didn’t accompany him to the US last week. However, he is seen to have a strong working relationship with several Biden officials.

Al-Sheikh’s visit will come days after several top Biden officials voiced their concern regarding the deteriorating security situation in the West Bank. Sullivan raised the issue during his meeting with Israeli National Security Council chairman Eyal Hulata on Wednesday at the White House.

The US says it is seeking to improve ties between Israel and the PA, maintaining that it is crucial for stability in the West Bank. Biden officials have cautioned against only focusing on maintaining Israeli-Palestinian security coordination, insisting that steps must be taken by Israel to boost the Palestinian economy as well.

On Thursday, a 7-year-old Palestinian lost his life in disputed circumstances during an Israeli army operation in the southern West Bank. The PA health ministry said the boy was killed after falling from an unspecified height while running away from IDF soldiers, but an Israeli military spokesman insists that the troops were not responsible for the tragedy.

National Security Council chairman Eyal Hulata (second from left) and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan (second from right) lead the first meeting of the US-Israel strategic dialogue on technological cooperation at the White House on September 28, 2022. (Israeli Embassy in Washington)

The US has already called for an “immediate investigation” into the circumstances of Rayan Suleiman’s death.

On Wednesday, four Palestinians were killed and 44 wounded during an Israeli military raid in the northern West Bank town of Jenin. IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi said the operation was successful in neutralizing a concrete terror threat. It was also the deadliest episode since Israel launched its crackdown earlier this year in response to a wave of Palestinian terror attacks that killed 19 people in Israel and the West Bank.

Over 2,000 Palestinians have been arrested and more than 100 Palestinians have been killed in the near-nightly raids, making this the deadliest year in the territory since 2015.

Most of the dead have been wanted militants who opened fire, or youths who threw firebombs or stones at soldiers entering their neighborhoods. But several civilians who were not involved in any violence have also died.

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