US envoy presses Abbas on human rights, prisoner payments during Ramallah meet

PA president denounces Israeli decision to blacklist Palestinian human rights groups, thanks Linda Thomas-Greenfield for US condemnations of Israeli settlement approvals

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

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas meets with US Ambassador the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield in the West Bank city of Ramallah, November 17, 2021. (Wafa)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas meets with US Ambassador the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield in the West Bank city of Ramallah, November 17, 2021. (Wafa)

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield pressed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on the issues of human rights and payments to security prisoners in Israeli jails during their meeting in Ramallah on Wednesday, according to her office.

US President Joe Biden’s UN envoy was in the West Bank after two days in Israel as she continued her first trip to the region, which will conclude on Thursday with a visit to Jordan.

Thomas-Greenfield met Wednesday with Abbas, PA Minister of Civil Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh and other Palestinian officials, along with representatives from Palestinian civil society.

Thomas-Greenfield “emphasized the importance of respecting human rights and avoiding actions that undermine the prospects of a two-state solution, such as settlement activity, evictions, incitement to violence, and payments to individuals imprisoned for terrorism,” a US readout said.

Palestinian civil society group did not include members from the six organizations that Israel blacklisted last month for allegedly hoodwinking donors and sending funds to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which Jerusalem classifies as a terror group.

“We do not accept in any way the classification of six Palestinian civil organizations as terrorist by the occupation authorities,” Abbas told Thomas-Greenfield during their meeting, according to the official PA news outlet Wafa.

Israel has yet to publicly release evidence proving that the organizations acted as fronts for the PFLP, though some individuals working for them have been tied to the terrorist group. A dossier compiled by the Shin Bet about the decision to outlaw the groups contains little concrete evidence and failed to convince European countries to stop funding the groups, the Associated Press revealed earlier this month.

Abbas, in turn, rejected the “abuse of our prisoners” by Israel, Wafa reported.

Ramallah has been under fire in recent months over a brutal crackdown on dissidents, including the death of activist Nizar Banat while in PA police custody.

The US has also long called out the PA over its prisoner payments program, which critics characterize as “pay-for-slay.” Ramallah for months has been telling Biden officials that it is working to reform the policy, but no progress has been announced. Palestinian officials confirmed to The Times of Israel last year that Ramallah is pushing the White House to render unconstitutional 1987 congressional legislation classifying the PLO as a terror organization in return for reforming its welfare policy.

The US envoy also raised Biden’s opposition to settlement building and evictions of Palestinian families in her meeting with Defense Minister Benny Gantz a day earlier, according to Thomas-Greenfield’s office.

Abbas expressed his appreciation for recent US statements condemning settlements, which climaxed last month when Israel advanced plans for roughly 3,000 Israeli homes in the West Bank. The PA president also thanked the Biden administration for its plan to reopen the US consulate in Jerusalem, which historically served as the de facto mission to the Palestinians before it was shuttered by former president Donald Trump in 2019.

“The Palestinian side is waiting for these American positions to be implemented on the ground,” Abbas said, according to the readout from Ramallah.

Israel opposes the move and it would have to approve the credentials of whomever Biden taps to head the mission. Despite announcing the plan in May, Biden has yet to provide a timetable for when it will be carried out.

Instead, Washington has stuck to the same set of talking points on the conflict as it places greater emphasis on other foreign policy issues.

“Thomas-Greenfield conveyed the Biden Administration’s strong support for a two-state solution and its belief that Israelis and Palestinians alike deserve equal measures of freedom, prosperity, security, and dignity,” her office says, regurgitating a line that the US has used dozens over the past year.

Unlike after her meetings with Israeli officials, Thomas-Greenfield did not post a photo of her sit-down with Abbas, highlighting an apparent difference in the nature of the US relationship with each side.

Earlier in the day, the UN envoy visited the Jalazone UNRWA girls’ school in Ramallah.

“I spoke to UNRWA officials about how to make their work stronger, more efficient and more accountable,” she tweeted afterward.

The Biden administration has restored millions of dollars in funding for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees but has also called on UNRWA to institute reforms amid allegations of corruption and incitement against Israel.

In her meetings with Palestinian officials, Thomas-Greenfield highlighted “ongoing US efforts to support Palestinian refugees through a more efficient UNRWA that respects humanitarian principles such as neutrality,” according to the US readout.

Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.

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