Tuesday, July 11, 2017

US ambassador, Trump envoy meet Palestinian officials in Jerusalem

US ambassador, Trump envoy meet Palestinian officials in Jerusalem: Unusual move made after Palestinians refuse to host Jason Greenblatt and US ambassador David Friedman in Ramallah

The US ambassador to Israel and the White House’s special envoy to the peace process met Tuesday with senior Palestinian negotiators in Jerusalem on Tuesday, after the Palestinian negotiating team refused to host the meeting in Ramallah.

Special envoy Jason Greenblatt, who has held many such consultations since Trump took office in January, was joined by US Consul General in Jerusalem Donald Blome and, in an unusual move, also David Friedman, who is the US ambassador to Israel.

“They had an open, cordial, and frank discussion on many topics related to peace negotiations,” a senior White House official told The Times of Israel. “The administration believes that in order to give everyone the best chance to reach an ultimate deal, it is critical to have negotiators that are close with the president and that is why the team includes Senior Adviser Jared Kushner, Greenblatt and Friedman.”

According to Israeli reports, the Palestinian negotiating team wanted to meet Greenblatt in Jerusalem because they were unwilling to host Friedman in Ramallah.

As an ambassador accredited to the State of Israel, Friedman would usually not attend bilateral meetings with the Palestinian Authority.

On Monday, a senior White House official told The Times of Israel that the purpose of Greenblatt’s trip was to lay the foundations for peace talks.

“This trip is an interim visit as talks continue about potential next steps,” he said. “President Trump has made it clear that working toward achieving a lasting peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians is a top priority for him.”

During his last visit to Israel at the end of June, Greenblatt accompanied Kushner to a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and another with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whom the two US officials met in his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah.

Palestinian sources told Hebrew and Arabic media later that the meeting had not gone well and that the Palestinian leader had accused the US of taking Israel’s side while refusing US demands that Ramallah cut off payments for some convicted terrorists and their families.

Kushner reportedly began his meeting with Abbas by stating all the Israeli concerns, including stopping the payments, according to Hebrew media reports, angering Abbas.

A senior Palestinian official said at the time that a preparatory meeting with Greenblatt a day before the meeting with Kushner had also not gone well and became tense over the payments to prisoners that Greenblatt had insisted come to an end.

Abbas has defended payments to Palestinian prisoners, including convicted terrorists, as a “social responsibility,” and said Israel was using the issue as a pretext to avoid peace talks.

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