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US, PA officials said to hold secret meet to discuss policy

Palestinian report says Washington is seeking to ‘crystallize’ its position before Trump and Netanyahu powwow

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

US President Donald Trump on February 3, 2017 (L); Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on January 30, 2017 (Mandel Ngan/AFP; Zacharias Abubeker/AFP)
US President Donald Trump on February 3, 2017 (L); Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on January 30, 2017 (Mandel Ngan/AFP; Zacharias Abubeker/AFP)

Representatives of the Trump administration have secretly met in recent days with Palestinian Authority officials in order to focus Washington’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to a Palestinian report published on Monday.

The Palestinian news agency Ma’an, quoting what it called knowledgeable sources, said Washington was eager to “crystallize” its position before US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet on February 15.

US officials reportedly told their PA counterparts that Washington intends to open formal contacts with the PA. This comes after several Palestinian officials said the new administration had rebuffed their overtures.

Ma’an didn’t say when or where these meeting had taken place.

Speaking to the official PA radio station the Voice of Palestine, PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki confirmed Monday morning there are indirect talks between Ramallah and the new US administration.

US President Barack Obama (right) greets Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during their bilateral meeting at UN headquarters, September 24, 2013. (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
US President Barack Obama (right) greets Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during their bilateral meeting at UN headquarters, September 24, 2013. (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

A National Security Council spokesman said Monday that, earlier this week, “White House officials, including Jason Greenblatt, held a constructive introductory meeting with a group of Palestinian business leaders who were visiting Washington for meetings with US officials, Congress, and other organizations. This meeting was one of many such engagements the Administration is conducting across all issue areas.”

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Newsweek last Tuesday the Trump administration had failed to respond to Palestinian overtures to initiate contact.

The sources who spoke with Ma’an said the US had slowly begun to shift its position on the Palestinians following pressure from Arab leaders, including a meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan, a phone call with the Saudi King Salman bin Abd Al-Aziz Al Saud, and ongoing contacts between Trump and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

Trump is expected to meet with Abdullah and Sissi in March before the next Arab League Summit in Amman, according to the report.

Since Trump took office, Israel has announced the construction of some 6,000 new homes in existing settlements and in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, drawing rebuke from the international community, but not — until Thursday night — from the White House, leading to speculation that President Donald Trump may abandon the long-held US policy of supporting a two-state solution.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis greets Jordan's King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein during an honor cordon at the Pentagon, Monday, Jan. 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis greets Jordan’s King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein during an honor cordon at the Pentagon, Monday, Jan. 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Thursday night: “While we don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful.”

According to the Ma’an report, the US officials also reportedly assured the Palestinians that Trump will not move the US Embassy to Jerusalem in the near future.

Trump promised during his campaign to carry out the controversial move, but has since said it was “too early” to talk about the issue.

Avi Issacharoff contributed to this report.

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