White House says in snubbing Pence, Palestinians ‘walking away’ from peace talks
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White House says in snubbing Pence, Palestinians ‘walking away’ from peace talks

Spokesman calls Abbas refusal to meet US vice president during his visit to Israel next week 'unfortunate'; PA says ties with Washington 'interrupted' by Trump moves on Jerusalem

Palestinian children look at graffiti depicting US President Donald Trump and slogans against US Vice President Mike Pence painted on Israel's security barrier in the West Bank city of Bethlehem during clashes with Palestinian protesters near an Israeli checkpoint on December 7, 2017. (AFP/Thomas Coex)
Palestinian children look at graffiti depicting US President Donald Trump and slogans against US Vice President Mike Pence painted on Israel's security barrier in the West Bank city of Bethlehem during clashes with Palestinian protesters near an Israeli checkpoint on December 7, 2017. (AFP/Thomas Coex)

The United States accused the Palestinian Authority Sunday of “walking away” from a chance to discuss peace in the Middle East by snubbing Vice President Mike Pence on an upcoming visit.

“It’s unfortunate that the Palestinian Authority is walking away again from an opportunity to discuss the future of the region,” Jarrod Agen, Pence’s deputy chief of staff, said in a statement.

The comments come after the Palestinian Authority said that its president, Mahmoud Abbas, would refuse to meet Pence later this month in protest at the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The shift in US policy on Jerusalem was hailed by Israel as historic, but outraged Palestinian leaders and sparked several days of unrest in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Two Palestinians in the Gaza Strip were killed in clashes on Friday, and two others died in Israeli air strikes in retaliation for rockets fired from the Hamas-run enclave. Hamas on Thursday had called for a new intifada against Israel, on Friday urged Palestinians to confront soldiers and settlers, and has allowed thousands of Gazans to confront Israeli troops at the Gaza border fence in recent days. Its leader Ismail Haniyeh on Friday praised the “blessed intifada,” urged the liberation of Jerusalem, and made plain the group was seeking to intensify violence against Israel.

On Sunday, a Palestinian terrorist, apparently motivated by Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem, stabbed and seriously wounded an Israeli security guard in the capital.

Over the weekend, Abbas’s diplomatic adviser said the meeting with Pence was canceled “because the US has crossed red lines” on Jerusalem.

Jibril Rajoub, a senior member of Abbas’s Fatah party, echoed the sentiment, saying last week that Pence was “not welcome in Palestine.”

But on Sunday, a senior Abbas adviser insisted that Palestinian ties with Washington were not severed by its change in policy, only “interrupted.”

US President Donald Trump holds up a signed memorandum after he delivered a statement on Jerusalem from the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Washington, DC on December 6, 2017 as US Vice President Mike Pence looks on. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

“We are not cutting our relationship with America. We are protesting the move of Mr. Trump,” Abbas’s foreign affairs adviser Nabil Shaath told The Times of Israel in a phone interview. “We think Mr. Trump has acted in a way that makes it impossible for the United States to act as an honest broker. We are just expressing that.”

Despite the Pence snub, Shaath said that all other communications between the PA and the US were not affected.

“We still have a delegation in Washington. There are matters with which communication is still continuing. Communication about the peace process is interrupted,” he said.

Abbas was set to meet Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo Monday to discuss developments related to the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital,” according to a spokesperson for the Egyptian presidency.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi interviewed on CNBC, November 7, 2017. (Screen capture: CNBC)

Official Palestinian news agency WAFA said Abbas and Sisi spoke by telephone on Sunday and “continued consultations about the latest developments after the US administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”

It said that they agreed “to continue consulting to coordinate common positions.”

Palestine Liberation Organization official Wasel Abu Yousef told AFP he understood that Jordan’s King Abdullah II would also join Monday’s meeting, but there was no official confirmation of this.

In his announcement last week, Trump stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, and called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites.

The move was fully supported by Pence.

Agencies and Dov Lieber contributed to this report.

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