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US officials say they conveyed commitment to 2 states in DC meetings with Abbas aide

In sit-downs with Jake Sullivan, Wendy Sherman and others, PA minister Hussein al-Sheikh says he pressed to end Israeli ‘unilateral actions that destroy’ prospects for peace

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, left, meets with Palestinian Authority Minister of Civilian Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh in Washington DC, on October 4, 2022. (US State Department/Twitter)
US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, left, meets with Palestinian Authority Minister of Civilian Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh in Washington DC, on October 4, 2022. (US State Department/Twitter)

The Biden administration has said its top officials highlighted their commitment to a two-state solution during a series of meetings they held this week in Washington with a senior Palestinian official visiting from Ramallah.

Palestinian Authority Civilian Affairs Minister and PLO Executive Committee Secretary-General Hussein al-Sheikh met on Monday and Tuesday with a number of senior US officials, including White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman.

A readout from Sullivan’s office said he and al-Sheikh “discussed US interest in supporting peace and stability, preserving the path towards negotiations for two states, and advancing equal measures of security, prosperity and freedom for Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

That line has been included in almost every statement relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict issued by the Biden administration over the past 20 months.

“Sullivan stressed the need to take steps to de-escalate tensions in the West Bank by countering terrorism and incitement, noted the importance of all parties refraining from unilateral actions that threaten stability, and emphasized the need to strengthen Palestinian institutions, including reinforcing commitment to non-violence,” the White House added.

The State Department’s readout on al-Sheikh’s meeting with Sherman was largely the same, though it specified that the type of two-state solution the Biden administration supports is one “along the pre-1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps.” This position was voiced for the first time by US President Joe Biden during his visit to the region in July. It represented a return to the more traditional US approach on the matter after former president Donald Trump released a peace plan that envisioned Israel holding on to every one of its settlements in the West Bank.

In his own summary of the Washington meetings, al-Sheikh tweeted that he and his American counterparts discussed the need to “preserve the two-state solution” in addition to “launching a political horizon and stopping all unilateral measures that destroy this solution.”

Al-Sheikh, who is seen as one of PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s closest confidants, was accompanied in Washington by the latter’s diplomatic adviser Majdi al-Khalidi.

On Wednesday, they visited the headquarters of the US Agency for International Development, meeting with senior USAID officials and thanking them for their humanitarian projects to support the Palestinian people. USAID funds have gone toward the East Jerusalem Hospital Network as well as water distillation projects in the West Bank, where Palestinians say their access to water is limited due to the expansion of settlements.

Biden has been one of the first American leaders to not pursue a peace initiative, deeming the conditions unripe for high-stakes negotiations.

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

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas meets with representatives of the Palestinian American community in New York on September 22, 2022. (Wafa)

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 he asserted 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’s visit came 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 last 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.

Palestinians clash with Israeli security forces in the West Bank city of Jenin on September 28, 2022. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

Last 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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