Palestinian envoy to US faces silence from White House

When US officials Kushner and Greenblatt traveled to New York to hear Abbas address the UN, no face-to-face interaction between the sides occurred.

By: AP and World Israel News Staff

A few miles down the road from Israel’s gated embassy, the Palestinian envoy to Washington sits in his office wrestling with a unique diplomatic dilemma: how to advance his people’s cause when relations with the United States are so distant that he hasn’t even spoken to the White House in months.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has written off President Donald Trump, cursing him and declaring him an illegitimate broker for peace. Trump has reacted angrily, threatening to cut off all U.S. aid and dismissing Palestinian claims that he blew up any semblance of impartiality by declaring Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital.

The Americans and the Palestinians can’t even agree on the basic facts of the dispute, much less the path forward for talks and an eventual peace agreement with Israel. So what’s a diplomat to do?

“It’s not like I am not speaking to them. My phone is open,” Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian ambassador, said in an hour-long interviewwith the Associated Press in his office, flanked by the Palestinian flag and portraits of Abbas and his predecessor, arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat.

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No one has called, he said. Not since Dec. 6 — the day Trump’s Jerusalem declaration. recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, triggered an unraveling of trust, diplomacy and optimism about the long-awaited peace plan being crafted by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Nor has there been any substantial contact between the Palestinians and the Americans at the United Nations, according to officials from both sides. Even Tuesday, when Kushner and Greenblatt traveled to New York to hear Abbas address the U.N. Security Council, no face-to-face interaction between the sides occurred.

Indeed, in his address to the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday, Abbas claimed the Palestinians “are the descendants of the Canaanites that lived in the land 5,000 years ago and continued to live there to this day,” among other outrageous statements, and accused Israel of occupying ‘Palestinian territories’ since 1948.

Among the lies he spouted was a denial of Palestinian incitement to terrorism, claiming his people are “committed to fostering a culture of peace and rejection of violence,” and their goal “is one thing only: fighting terrorism.”

Haley: ‘We will not chase after you’

By the time U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley gave her response, Abbas had left the room. No matter — Haley addressed him directly.

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“Our negotiators are sitting right behind me, ready to talk,” Haley said. “But we will not chase after you.”

Zomlot, a close Abbas confidant and Ph.D. economist, spends his days at the Palestinians’ red-bricked delegation office along Georgetown’s Wisconsin Ave., sipping thick Turkish coffee with members of Congress, academics, think-tank types and leaders of the Arab and Jewish communities, trying to establishing goodwill among the American people in hopes it will filter up to their leaders. He said he asks every lawmaker he meets the same question.

“Who are we? What is this office? Are we your peace partners? Your negotiating partners? Are we the secular liberal democratic movement that you want to empower as an inclusive movement? Or are we the terrorists, as designated by your own law?” Zomlot said, referring to a special marker in his passport that says he can enter the U.S. despite restrictions in the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006.

He added with an exasperated laugh: “I was teaching your kids at Harvard.”

Palestinians in disaster mode

It wasn’t always this way. When Trump took office vowing to broker the “ultimate deal,” the Palestinians remained cautiously optimistic in public, praising his stated seriousness of purpose about Mideast peace.

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Now, the Palestinians in Washington are in disaster mode.

In November, eight months after Zomlot’s arrival, the Trump administration announced it was shutting him and his operation down because Abbas, in another U.N. speech, had violated American law by calling for Israelis to be prosecuted in international court.

After a public backlash, the Trump administration reversed course. It said the Palestine Liberation Organization’s mission could stay open, but scaled back: Only activities advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks would be allowed. The U.S. instructed the Palestinians against making new long-term commitments like signing leases or employee contracts.

Abbas, at the Security Council, insisted that if the United States is to be involved in future talks, its role must be limited, alongside other participating governments.

The White House is charging ahead anyway, assuming the Palestinians will relent and consider Kushner’s plan.

“We will present it when it is done and the time is right,” said White House spokesman Josh Raffel.