In a rare interview directly criticizing the Palestinian leadership, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman indicated that the White House’s patience with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is running out, noting that if Abbas refuses to negotiate with Israel and the Americans, others will.
“If Abu Mazen is not interested in negotiating, I am sure that someone else will want to,” Friedman said, referring to Abbas by his moniker.
“If Abbas creates a vacuum, I am convinced that someone else will fill it, and then we will move forward [with the peace process],” Friedman continued, in an interview with the weekly religious-Zionist newspaper Shevi’i. Parts of the interview were released on Wednesday; the full interview will be published on Friday.
Some Palestinian officials have said that the Trump administration is delaying the announcement of its Middle East peace plan because it believes the proposal would have a greater chance of success after a new leader replaces Abbas is delaying.
This is the first time, however, that there has been an official American admission of disillusion with the Palestinian leader since Abbas cut off all contact with Friedman and the US negotiating team after President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in a December 6 speech in the White House.
There has been no official contact between Ramallah and the White House since then, and Trump’s peace proposal, which he has described as the “deal of the century,” has yet to be unveiled.
Abbas turned 83 this week, but has so far shown no signs of relinquishing power. There have been no elections in the Palestinian Authority since 2006 despite Abbas’s term officially expiring in 2009.
Last week, the Palestinian Authority called for Friedman to be added to a “global terror list” as it stepped up its war of words with the American envoy, days after Abbas denounced him as a “son of a dog” and “settler.”
In the interview, Friedman shrugged off the insults from the PA president, saying Abbas was only harming his own people.
“When Abu Mazen called me the son of a dog, he did a disservice to his people,” Friedman said. “Statements of this kind only make it more difficult for the United States to have serious talks with him… Calling me names will not improve the situation of the Palestinians.”
The US position articulated by Friedman is perhaps reminiscent of that of another US president, George Bush, who in 2002 said that the then-leader of the Palestinian Authority Yasser Arafat had to go if there was to be any progress in peace talks with the Israelis.
“When the Palestinian people have new leaders, new institutions and new security arrangements with their neighbors, the United States of America will support the creation of a Palestinian state,” Bush said at the time.
It was unclear whether Friedman was calling for Abbas to be replaced as leader of the Palestinians, or whether he was implying that the negotiations would simply bypass Ramallah completely.
Earlier this month, a senior Palestinian official told the London-based Al Hayat newspaper that the US administration is preparing for the day when there will be Palestinian leaders in the West Bank and Gaza Strip who “would not be able to reject the peace plan and would have to deal with it gradually.”
The official also said that the US administration has decided to delay indefinitely the announcement of its long-awaited peace proposal after concluding that it cannot impose such a deal on the Palestinians.
The official said that the US administration had hoped that some of the Arab countries would replace the Palestinians at the negotiating table with Israel after the Trump plan was announced.
However, the official said, the Americans haven’t been able to find find any Arab party willing to accept the plan as long the Palestinians continued to reject it. “This is why the Americans have decided to shelve the plan,” the official added.
Friedman also spoke in the interview about the so-called Taylor Force Act, signed last week by Trump as part of an omnibus budget. The legislation cuts aid to the Palestinians as long as they continue paying stipends and pensions to terrorists and their families.
“The message from Washington was clear – you can not show hostility toward American interests and continue to receive American aid as if nothing had happened,” Friedman said.
Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report.