Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Saturday night for the second day in a row with US negotiators Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, even as the Palestinian Authority continues to boycott the team and characterize them as “spokespeople for the Israeli occupation” intent on normalizing “Israeli apartheid.”
The two senior US officials arrived in Israel late on Thursday on the final leg of a five-country Mideast tour that began in Jordan on Tuesday, and included Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Qatar. They met for four hours with Netanyahu on Friday afternoon, joined in their talks by US Ambassador David Friedman, and Israel Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer.
Following Friday’s meeting, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement saying the discussions centered on the diplomatic process with the Palestinians, regional developments and the security and humanitarian situation in Gaza.
The Kushner and Greenblatt tour of the region comes as the Trump administration is considering if, when and how to roll-out a blueprint for a peace process which the Palestinians – because the US decisions to move its capital to Jerusalem and recognize the city as Israel’s capital – have already rejected.
The US Embassy put out a statement after the meeting very similar to statements issued by the White House following Kushner and Greenblatt’s meetings in each of the other countries they have visited on this trip.
Kushner and Greenblatt, the statement read, “Discussed the means by which the humanitarian situation in Gaza can be alleviated, while maintaining Israel’s security. They further discussed the continued commitment of the Trump administration and Israel to advance peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.”
Even as the Palestinian Authority was boycotting the US delegation, their spokespeople were saying that if the US wanted to broker a peace deal, the address was the PA.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh was quoted Saturday by WAFA, the Palestinian Authority’s news agency, as saying, “The right address for achieving a just and lasting peace that cannot be bypassed, neither regionally nor internationally, is the Palestinian decision-maker represented by President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian leadership supported by the legitimate international community and the Arabs, who made this clear to the American delegation.
“What is required after the end of the US delegation’s tours to the region is for the American administration to understand the need to stop pursuing imaginary political alternatives and projects aimed at splitting the Palestinian homeland to prevent the establishment of our Palestinian state,” Rudeineh said.
Last week he said that US efforts to drum up support in the Gulf states for infrastructure projects costing hundreds of millions of dollars for Gaza was an effort to “separate Gaza from the West bank under the tile of humanitarian aid to Gaza.”
This charge was rejected by Greenblatt in a Twitter post, saying, “Hamas and the PA, who have been fighting one another for over a decade, are each cynically claiming that the US is trying to divide Gaza and the West Bank, instead of acknowledging that we are trying to help the Palestinians in Gaza. What hypocrisy.”
Veteran Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, meanwhile, told the Voice of Palestine on Saturday that the projects for Gaza – done outside the aegis of UNRWA, which he said the US wants to terminate by proposing direct aid to countries hosting Palestinian refugees – “is actually aimed at liquidating the issue of the Palestinian refugees.”
Erekat, according to WAFA, said Netanyahu told Kushner and Greenblatt that Israel was ready to use money it collects at its ports for PA tax and customs revenue to provide for Gaza’s needs.
“The goal behind this is to sustain the [Hamas] coup and keep Gaza separated from the West Bank on the way to creating a mini-state in Gaza while bringing down the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank,” Erekat said.
Erekat, in an interview with the Middle East Eye published on Friday, said that Americans had become “nothing else than spokespeople for the Israeli occupation” whose intention was to “normalize Israeli apartheid.”
Earlier this month Greenblatt – often the target of Erekat’s tirades – responded in an op-ed column in The Washington Post, saying it was time the Palestinian were served by leaders other than Erekat, who he said has for the last 40 years voiced the same talking points and failed to deliver “anything close” to what the Palestinians want.
“Dr. Erekat – we have heard your voice for decades and it has not achieved anything close to Palestinian aspirations or anything close to a comprehensive peace agreement,” he wrote.
“Other Palestinian perspectives might help us finally achieve a comprehensive peace agreement where Palestinian and Israeli lives can be better. The time for leadership and responsibility is now. The time for meeting after meeting of government officials repeating the same talking points is over. The Palestinian people want real action, and they need honest, realistic and decisive solutions.”
Erekat, according to WAFA on Saturday, said that Greenblatt advocated changing the Palestinian political system and overthrowing the regime of Abbas.
“In order to target the leadership, the US administration starts by creating a state of destabilization and confusion in the West Bank and at the same time works on undercutting international consensus” on the Palestine issue, he charged.
WAFA reported that Erekat and Palestinian intelligence chief Majed Faraj held talks in Amman on Friday with Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi and Jordanian intelligence head Adnan al-Jundi that concentrated on the results of meetings Jordanian King Abdullah II had with Netanyahu on Monday, and Kushner and Greenblatt on Tuesday.
Abdullah is scheduled to meet US President Donald Trump on Monday in Washington.
The king began a tour of Washington on Friday calling on the Trump administration, in the final stages of preparing its Middle East peace plan, to commit to the establishment of a Palestinian state in east Jerusalem.
Abdullah met with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and National Security Adviser John Bolton, according to Jordanian officials.
The king’s meeting with Pompeo “covered efforts to move the peace process forward,” according to the embassy. “King Abdullah stressed the importance of stepping up efforts to relaunch serious and effective Palestinian-Israeli negotiations based on the two-state solution, leading to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on Palestinian national soil, with east Jerusalem as its capital.”
According to local media reports, Jordanian officials have grown concerned that the Trump administration’s peace plan may spark outrage in the region.Michael Wilner contributed to this report.
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