Officials from the Palestinian Authority expressed disappointment that the Trump administration did not take a stand on the reports that Israel has begun work on building a new settlement in the West Bank, and say they are concered with the issue as the White House moves to restart peace talks.
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The reports came as U.S. President Donald Trump's two Middle East peace envoys, Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, were in Israel to discuss American efforts to resume the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.
Kushner, a senior adviser to Trump and his son-in-law, and Greenblatt met on Wednesday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. Kushner will also meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.
"The dialogue at this stage is fundamentally Palestinian-American and not Israeli-Palestinian," a senior Palestinian official close to Abbas told Haaretz. Abbas raised the question of the new settlement with the Americans, he added.
"President Trump spoke about establishing a joint committee of five [representatives from each side] and we want to make progress on it. But first of all we need to understand from the administration what is its position concerning the issue of the settlements, if they see the settlements as the main and most serious obstacle to progress in any negotiations, so there is a serious problem making progress," said the senior Palestinian official.
"It is impossible to speak about a version that will bring the sides to serious negotiations as long as Israel continues massive construction in the settlements with a green light from the United States, or thunderous silence in the face of this construction," he added.
On Wednesday, Abbas met with Kushner for the first time. The meeting began in the evening after the end of the day's Ramadan fast and after their meeting with Netanyahu. The Palestinians attributed great importance to the meeting, not because of any progress in the peace process but with the goal of understanding the true spirit of the Trump administration, and what the White House and Trump mean when they speak about their intentions to bring about an agreement and a good "deal" between the two sides.
The Palestinian side is very suspicious of the American mediators, especially Kushner and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who also attended Wednesday's meeting with Netanyahu. The Palestinians want to know how unbiased Kushner and Greenblatt will be and whether they will lean toward Israel.
"Abbas is very honest about his interest in advancing the peace process based on clear principles, and the question is to what extent Israel and Netanyahu are ready for it," a senior Palestinian official told Haaretz.
In both Tuesday's meeting with Greenblatt and Wednesday's meeting with Kushner, the Palestinians presented the American envoys with a position paper addressing all the core issues, in particular the question of borders and settlements.
The Palestinians raised their positions concerning core issues – in hopes that the Israelis would do the same – in an aim to understand the two sides' differences and whether it is truly possible to make progress in the negotiations, a senior Palestinian official said.