US denies report Trump offered to meet Abbas
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US denies report Trump offered to meet Abbas

National Security Council says it wants to work with PA to ‘advance our mutual goal of a better future for the Palestinian people’

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting with the Palestinian Central Council in the West Bank city of Ramallah on August 15, 2018. (AFP/Abbas Momani)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting with the Palestinian Central Council in the West Bank city of Ramallah on August 15, 2018. (AFP/Abbas Momani)

The United States on Wednesday denied a report that US President Donald Trump had offered to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly later this month.

The offer was reported by Hadashot news (formerly known as Channel 2) Tuesday, but in a statement, Garret Marquis, the US National Security Council spokesman, criticized the news station for its “untrue” report.

“The Channel 2 report that President Trump requested a meeting with President Abbas is untrue,” he said. “Channel 2 unfortunately continues to publish misleading reports without checking their veracity.”

The NSC also criticized Abbas’s response to the report, in which he all but rejected renewed negotiations with the US.

“Rather than engage in personal attacks against Jason Greenblatt or other members of the administration, we continue to hope that the Palestinian Authority will engage with the US positively and constructively to advance our mutual goal of a better future for the Palestinian people,” Marquis said in the statement.

Hadashot on Wednesday acknowledged the US denial of its report, but reiterated that the overture to Abbas was made, citing World Jewish Congress president Ron Lauder as an indirect intermediary, who it said had spoken recently with Jordan’s King Abdullah and Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

According to the original TV report on Tuesday, Trump had been seeking to re-establish ties with the Palestinians, who have blackballed US peace efforts for months and are largely boycotting the administration amid anger over Washington’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

However, Abbas responded that he would only accept such a meeting in return for significant diplomatic gestures that would renew trust between the sides.

In addition, he reportedly demanded that Trump fire his Middle East negotiating team, including envoy Jason Greenblatt and the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2nd from right) meets at his Jerusalem office with the ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer (right); White House adviser Jared Kushner (center); US Ambassador David Friedman (second left); and special envoy Jason Greenblatt, on June 22, 2018. (Haim Zach/GPO)

In the wake of the US president’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last December and the US embassy’s relocation to the capital in May, PA officials have been refusing to meet with members of Trump’s peace team, declaring them unfit to act as honest mediators in negotiations.

Washington’s decision to halt all financial aid to the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees has further infuriated the PA leadership. Abbas’s spokesman has said Washington’s latest decision “promotes terrorism” and is a violation of UN resolutions.

Previous US peace plans have included proposals and maps dealing with potential land swaps, security guarantees and other issues, but have left out thornier issues like Jerusalem and the Palestinian demand for refugees and their descendants to return to pre-1967 Israel.

A view of East Jerusalem, August 8, 2016. (Zack Wajsgras/Flash90)

It’s not clear if the US plan will address those sticking points. Trump has said in the past that his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital took the issue “off the table.” Some reports have indicated the US may offer Jerusalem suburb Abu Dis as a capital instead of East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians demand be the seat of their future state.

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