Abbas Refused to Meet Israeli President Rivlin in Brussels

Israel responded favorably to European Parliament President Martin Schulz's attempt to set up a meeting before the Palestinian president's refusal, according to a senior Israeli official.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, April 19, 2016.
Michael Sohn, AP

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas turned down an offer by European Parliament President Martin Schulz to meet with President Reuven Rivlin in Brussels on Thursday.

A senior Israeli official, who requested not to be named due to the diplomatic sensitivity of the issue, noted that Schulz updated Rivlin on Thursday morning, during the last day of his visit to the European Union, that Abbas has refused to meet with him.

Last week, ahead of Rivlin's visit to Brussels, Schulz turned to him and suggested to organize a meeting with Abbas, who was set to be in town at the same time. Rivlin responded favorably and updated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who on his part welcomed such a meeting. For quite some time, Israel's policy has been to agree to meet with the Palestinian leadership at any time and at any place for direct negotiations without perquisite conditions.

In recent months, Abbas has claimed several times in meetings with international officials and in interviews to the Israeli media that he is willing to immediately meet with Netanyahu, but that the latter is the one refusing such a meeting. In another incident, Abbas claimed that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry thwarted a meeting between him and Netanyahu, asking from him that it wouldn’t take place.

A similar incident occured in October 2015, when French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius attempted to arrange a meeting between Netanyahu and Abbas in Paris in an attempt to stop escalating tensions concerning the Temple Mount. Netanyahu responded positively to Fabius's proposal, but Abbas delayed his response for several days until the issue became irrelevant.

Abbas arrived on Wednesday to Brussels and met with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, and is expected to speak at the European Parliament on Thursday. Abbas is expected to strongly criticize Israel and its policy in the West Bank.

Abbas' office responded that no meeting with Rivlin had been planned.

Palestinian officials told Haaretz that the Israeli claim that Abbas is a "refusenik" is ridiculous, seeing how the Palestinian president is interested in conducting meetings to promote peace and the two-state solution, rather than such that serve as a photo-op with Israeli officials.

Abbas' office also didn’t hide its disappointment from Rivlin's Wednesday speech to the European Parliament, in which he called the Palestinian leadership ineffective and blamed the failed peace talks on the Palestinians, without mentioning the occupation and the Palestinians' right to self-determination. 

Following his meeting with Mogherini, Rivlin commented on Abbas' refusal to meet with him. "It is surprising in my view that President Mahmoud Abbas has refused over and over to meet with Israeli leaders and that he has chosen over and over to turn to the international community for support."

"On this occasion, it is important that I say that I gladly responded [positively] to the initiative of those at the European Union to set up a meeting between me and Abbas, who is currently visiting Brussels. I am sorry that he rejected the initiative for a meeting. We cannot build confidence between us if we don't begin talking directly, without intermediaries, focusing on what can be done and not on what is impossible to do, and a lot can be done."