The White House issued a rare public rebuke of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday, after the latter publicly dismissed US efforts to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and indicated that Ramallah prefers that Russia play a more central role as a mediator while sitting alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The statement from a National Security Council spokesperson appeared to be the first time the Biden administration has responded to escalating criticism from Ramallah, which has accused Washington of failing to pressure Israel to cease military operations in the West Bank while also only focusing on economic antidotes to the conflict, rather than political ones.
In remarks in front of reporters ahead of a private Thursday meeting with Putin at a conference in Kazakhstan, Abbas said, “We don’t trust America and you know our position. We don’t trust it, we don’t rely on it, and under no circumstances can we accept that America is the sole party in resolving a problem.”
Abbas clarified that the US can still play a peacemaking role “within the Quartet since it is a great country, but we will never accept it as the only one.”
By contrast, Abbas told Putin that he is “happy and satisfied with the Russian position.”
Less than 48 hours later, the White House chose to respond, with an NSC spokesperson issuing a statement saying, “We were deeply disappointed to hear President Abbas’s remarks [Thursday] to President Putin.”
“Putin is a far cry from the type of international partner needed to constructively address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” the spokesperson said.
“Russia does NOT stand for justice and international law,” the NSC spokesperson continued. “President Biden, in contrast, has demonstrated US commitment for decades to seeking creative solutions and working toward the lasting peace needed to advance stability and prosperity throughout the Middle East.”
The back-and-forth took place less than a week after the US hosted a senior Palestinian official in Washington for the first time since the Trump administration shuttered the Palestine Liberation Organization’s DC diplomatic office in 2018.
PLO secretary general Hussein al-Sheikh met with several of Biden’s top aides last week, including National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman. Those meetings had been positive, with the Biden officials reiterating their commitment to a two-state solution and receiving updates from al-Sheikh regarding tensions in the West Bank, a senior US official told The Times of Israel.
But al-Sheikh didn’t leave Washington with any “deliverables” from the Biden administration, a Palestinian official said, noting that Ramallah is still waiting for the US to follow through on promises to reopen diplomatic missions in DC and Jerusalem that were shuttered by the previous administration.
“There’s still no interest in engaging with political moves. They say some of the right things, but in terms of actions, it’s all through an economic lens,” the Palestinian official said.
The official pointed to the latest package announced by the US during President Joe Biden’s July visit to the region. It included expanding the operating hours of the Allenby Crossing to 24/7, rolling out 4G access for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and $200 million in aid for the East Jerusalem Hospital Network.
Each of those announcements has faced subsequent hiccups in the follow-through process.
“Even on these smaller steps, they haven’t been able to deliver,” the Palestinian official said.
Biden has been one of the first American leaders to not pursue a peace initiative, deeming the conditions unripe for high-stakes negotiations, given the weakness of the PA in the West Bank and the political instability in Israel.
The stance has gradually frustrated Palestinian officials and that anger seeped through during Abbas’s visit to New York last month to address the United Nations General Assembly.
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 which, he asserted, told him 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.”
In a fiery speech to the General Assembly the next day, Abbas said the US only “pretends to uphold international law and human rights” and lamented the international community’s failure to act to bring about a two-state solution.