NEW YORK — Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told a group of Palestinian Americans last week that he scolded US Secretary of State Antony Blinken for failing to pressure Israel to make peace.
While Abbas has not shied away from publicly vocalizing his frustration with the Biden administration over the past year, his remarks during a private meeting with representatives of the Palestinian diaspora on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York appeared to go further and included the belittling of the United States’s top diplomat.
In a recording of the September 22 meeting obtained by The Times of Israel, the PA leader recalled a recent phone conversation with Blinken during which Abbas said he grew frustrated with what he called a recurring US practice of claiming that Israel is not interested in peace, while refusing to use the American bully pulpit to pressure Jerusalem into moving in that direction.
“I told Blinken, ‘You little boy, don’t do that,'” Abbas told the Palestinian Americans, speaking in Arabic. Some details of the meeting were first published by the Haya Washington Arabic news site.
Abbas said he then recalled to Blinken how during the 1956 Suez Crisis, Israel agreed to withdraw its forces from the Gaza Strip after US president Dwight Eisenhower ordered prime minister David Ben Gurion to do so.
“I know your history,” Abbas said he told Blinken, detailing a string of phone calls that Eisenhower held with Ben Gurion at the time. In one of those conversations, the PA leader said the US president called the Israeli prime minister and asked, “David, have you gotten out of [Gaza]? Tonight, you’ll withdraw and you’ll tell me yourself that you’ve done so.'”
“Ben Gurion wrote in his memoirs that he withdrew that same night,” Abbas said, seeking to prove that the US has the power to press Israel when it wants to.
Commenting on the testy conversation with the US secretary of state, the PA president said he told Blinken: “The lesson [from this] is not to say, ‘My beloved, do this or don’t do that,'” when dealing with Israel, but rather to use the “red phone” and the authority of the president’s office to strong-arm Israel into changing its policies. He claimed the US deals with “190 countries” in this manner, but not Israel.
Abbas told the meeting attendees he used to believe US administrations that 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.”
Asked for comment on Abbas’s remarks, a State Department spokesperson said that Blinken “has maintained a respectful dialogue with President Abbas. Beyond that, we’ll decline to comment on the content of their conversations.”
A separate source familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel: “This is not an accurate characterization of their discussions.”
A day after his meeting with the Palestinian Americans, Abbas told the UN General Assembly that the US only “pretends to uphold international law and human rights,” in a fiery speech that castigated Israel for damaging prospects for peace and lamented the international community’s failure to act on the Palestinians’ behalf.
US President Joe Biden restored ties with the PA upon entering office and has since announced more than half a billion dollars in aid for the Palestinians, which had been halted almost entirely by his predecessor Donald Trump. However, the current administration has not followed in the path of its predecessors by launching an initiative to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Instead, it has focused on advancing incremental steps largely focused on boosting the Palestinian economy, which Ramallah says are insufficient without the creation of a parallel “political horizon.”
In his meeting with the Palestinian Americans, the PA leader highlighted the legitimacy of the Palestinian cause, saying, “We’re against rockets and we’re against artillery… We’re a peaceful people. We want to attain our right through peace talks, but [the US] doesn’t want [to take this path].”
Abbas later told those present in the room that they had an integral role to play in their national destiny, asserting that Palestinian Americans are the “only hope” for Palestinian statehood to be realized due to their ability to engage with the broader American public.
“America has not found someone telling our side, but I’m relying on all of you to do so,” said Abbas, adding that the US is a “simple” society that only knows “the Zionist narrative that the administration imposed [upon them].”
Therefore, Abbas told those in the room: “You must talk to everyone in order to arrive at your goal… You must not exclude anyone… including the Zionist lobby” — an apparent reference to AIPAC, which was specifically raised in one of the questions posed to Abbas after his remarks.
“There are many people who say that the Zionist lobby is the most dangerous,” he continued. “No! We must speak to the Zionist lobby.”
التقيت اليوم مع وفد من الايباك #aipac ، حيث تمت مناقشة العلاقة مع الادارة الامريكية وكذلك الحكومة الاسرائيلية وقضايا إقليمية، وضرورة وجود أفق سياسي يرتكز على الشرعية الدولية ويفضي إلى حل الدولتين. pic.twitter.com/AkcDhhv9he
— حسين الشيخ Hussein Al Sheikh (@HusseinSheikhpl) September 13, 2022
J Street, the dovish Mideast lobby, is “nice” and fair to engage with as well, Abbas said, while emphasizing the importance of also lobbying those who are not as sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. “We are speaking to the entire American community. It never came across our mind that we’d deal with a Democratic administration and then when a Republican administration comes [that we’d spurn them].”
“The truth is, we should talk to Likud first,” Abbas said, demonstrating that the policy also applies to Ramallah’s dealings with Israel, where the right-wing party has long been one of the most dominant.
The PA leader then recalled his own engagements with the “Zionist lobby” that took place during former president Barack Obama’s first term in office.
Then-US special envoy for the Middle East peace process George Mitchell called the PA president repeatedly “begging” him not to meet with the lobby, Abbas said. The PA president said Mitchell referred to the Zionist lobby’s members as “animals” and that Obama “went crazy” when he found out about his plan to meet with AIPAC, warning the PA president that he’d “regret” doing so.
In a statement to The Times of Israel, Mitchell said: “President Abbas’s recollection is incorrect as to me. I don’t know about his conversations with others, but I can state categorically that there never was any such conversation with me. Furthermore, I have never used the language about AIPAC he cites, with him or anyone else.”
Obama’s office declined to respond to requests for comment.
PA officials have repeatedly met with AIPAC delegations, including earlier this month when Abbas’s senior aide Hussein al-Sheikh hosted representatives of the lobby in Ramallah.
Are you relying on The Times of Israel for accurate and timely coverage right now? If so, please join The Times of Israel Community. For as little as $6/month, you will:
We’re really pleased that you’ve read X Times of Israel articles in the past month.
That’s why we started the Times of Israel eleven years ago - to provide discerning readers like you with must-read coverage of Israel and the Jewish world.
So now we have a request. Unlike other news outlets, we haven’t put up a paywall. But as the journalism we do is costly, we invite readers for whom The Times of Israel has become important to help support our work by joining The Times of Israel Community.
For as little as $6 a month you can help support our quality journalism while enjoying The Times of Israel AD-FREE, as well as accessing exclusive content available only to Times of Israel Community members.
David Horovitz, Founding Editor of The Times of Israel