Jan 25, 2023 - World

Palestinian officials say the Abbas-Sullivan meeting was bleak

Sullivan and Abbas meet

Sullivan meets Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Jan. 19. Photo: Handout/Palestinian Presidency/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

RAMALLAH, occupied West Bank — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ meeting with White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan last week was bleak and didn't make much progress, Palestinian officials told Axios.

Why it matters: The meeting's tenor reflects the current low point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The U.S. has expressed concern over the Israeli government's policies in the occupied West Bank, and Palestinians have warned the situation is only set to get worse.

  • "We conveyed to Sullivan the message that the practices of the Israeli government will become more dangerous to the point that the Palestinian leadership and people will not be able to bear them, and therefore won’t remain silent," a senior Palestinian official told Axios.

State of play: Tensions between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have been intensifying for months, but they escalated even further earlier in January when the new Israeli government sanctioned the PA over its latest push for the International Court of Justice to issue a legal opinion on the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

  • The PA is concerned additional Israeli sanctions could make it difficult to pay its employees' salaries.
  • "Without a doubt, the escalating financial pressures [by Israel] would undermine the Palestinian Authority and its ability to function," a senior Palestinian official warned.

At the same time, the situation in the West Bank has continued to deteriorate.

  • Tensions have remained high in several West Bank cities, where the Israeli military has conducted nearly nightly raids.
  • The Israeli military killed about 150 Palestinians last year. Israel says most of those who were killed were militants, though Palestinians and human rights groups say the figure includes several children and people not involved in the unrest. Israel stepped up its operations in the West Bank following several attacks against Israeli civilians by Palestinians last year. More than two dozen people in Israel and the West Bank died in the attacks.

What they're saying: The PA will continue to raise the issue of the "political horizon" or the diplomatic process in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Palestinian officials say.

  • The Biden administration has previously stressed that such a process is unrealistic right now, given regional tensions and how wide the gap is between the two sides. Still, the White House said in a statement that during last week's visit Sullivan and Palestinian leaders "exchanged views on measures to build trust, enhance security, and foster conditions for a political horizon."
  • The PA told Sullivan it will use all political and diplomatic means — in the UN and international courts — to defend itself, according to the senior Palestinian official.
  • "This includes reconsidering the Palestinian-Israeli relations on the basis that the extremist Israeli government is no longer a partner in peace, but rather a colonial power that practices ethnic cleansing and apartheid, and its plans and practices must be exposed and its unilateral acts of aggression must be stopped," the Palestinian official said.
  • Israel has previously said allegations of apartheid are baseless and denied accusations that it persecutes the Palestinians.
  • The PA also plans to continue its efforts to gain full membership at the UN — a push U.S. officials have warned will only make the situation worse.

For his part, Sullivan also reaffirmed "the U.S. administration’s interest in strengthening engagement with the Palestinian Authority," the White House said.

  • They also discussed "U.S. support for peace, preserving the path towards negotiations for two states, and advancing equal measures of security, prosperity, and freedom for Israelis and Palestinians," the White House readout added.

What to watch: Many fear tensions in the region will only continue to escalate, especially during the holy month of Ramadan, which begins in March.

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