Abbas presses Blinken over Israeli "provocations" in "tough" call
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas protested what he called the Biden administration's inaction and “silence” over contentious Israeli steps in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem in a call on Tuesday that an American and a Palestinian source described as "tough."
Behind the scenes: Palestinian officials have in recent days conveyed angry messages to their U.S. counterparts over Washington's responses to Sunday's "flag march" of Israeli nationalists in Jerusalem, Israel's violations of the status quo at the al-Aqsa mosque, and Israel's refusal to engage with the peace process, the sources say.
- Abbas' frustrations were leaked to the Palestinian press, which reported that he was considering harsh steps against Israel if the situation continued.
- This is all taking place ahead of a planned visit by President Biden to the West Bank in June.
What they're saying: Abbas told U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken he was considering taking retaliatory steps against Israel "in light of the U.S. silence about the Israeli provocations," according to the Palestinian readout of the call.
The provocations Abbas cited include events at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, or Temple Mount, in Jerusalem, one of the holiest sites in both Islam and Judaism.
- Abbas told Blinken that “radical Israeli settlers" were attacking the mosque, praying at the compound, and raising the Israeli flag there under the protection of Israeli police. Meanwhile, Abbas said, Israeli security forces were not allowing Palestinians to worship freely.
- “It is a violation of the status quo," Abbas told Blinken, according to the statement, noting that the "unilateral" Israeli steps come at a time when there is "no political horizon" for the Palestinians.
- “The Biden administration must turn its words into deeds and not issue condemnations or keep silent over Israel’s unilateral actions. The situation on the ground can’t continue," Abbas said, according to the statement.
Abbas asked that the U.S. remove the Palestinian Liberation Organization from the U.S. terror blacklist and allow it to reopen its office in Washington.
- The Palestinian president also pushed for Biden to fulfill his campaign promise to reopen the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem.
- According to the Palestinian statement, Blinken told Abbas the U.S. still intended to reopen the consulate.
The other side: State Department spokesman Ned Price issued a much shorter statement about the call, saying Blinken and Abbas discussed "the importance of Israelis and Palestinians working to maintain calm and de-escalate tensions."
- Price added that Blinken "emphasized the importance of the U.S.-Palestinian relationship and the administration’s support for a negotiated two-state solution."
- Blinken also "underscored the importance of concluding the investigations" into the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, Price said.
What to watch: Ahead of the visit, the Biden administration wants to announce a “special representative for Palestinian affairs," U.S. and Israeli officials tell me.
- Hady Amr, who currently holds the Israel-Palestine file at the State Department, is expected to be appointed to the new role, as was first reported by the Times of Israel.
- A U.S. official said Amr would effectively be a “non-resident consul general,” working from Washington but overseeing the Palestinian affairs department at the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. The administration sees that as an interim step on the path to reopening the consulate.
- An Israeli official said Israel has no objections to the move, which it sees as confirmation that the Biden administration has given up on reopening the consulate for now.
What's next: Blinken also told Abbas that a senior U.S. delegation would arrive in Ramallah in the coming days to prepare for Biden’s visit and continue discussing the issues he raised in the call so that the president’s visit would be successful, per the Palestinian statement.