After Meeting Democrats in Ramallah, Abbas Skips Visiting Republicans

Source familiar with group's schedule tells Haaretz a meeting with PA president was originally planned, but did not know why Abbas never eventually met with the lawmakers

Abbas during a meeting with the Arab media in Ramallah, July 3, 2019.
\ MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/ REUTERS

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has skipped meeting a Republican congressional delegation visiting Ramallah on Tuesday, a week after meeting with Democrats.

A report earlier Wednesday by Jewish Insider, citing a source "familiar with the trip," said that instead of meeting with Abbas, the Republican delegation met with PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat and Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shatayyeh.

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A source familiar with the group's schedule told Haaretz a meeting with the PA president was originally planned, yet he did not know why Abbas never eventually met with the lawmakers.

However, Fatah spokesman and Abbas aide Osama Qawasmi, who is in charge of communications with the U.S. told Haaretz the PA president failed to meet with Republican delegates because of personal reasons and not due to any principled stance.

Qawasmi noted the fact the Republicans met with Shatayyeh and Erekat, which he added were some of the most senior officials in the Palestinian leadership.

He said that while the Palestinians persist in boycotting U.S. President Donald Trump, they are willing to meet with any other factors, including American members of Congress, regarding Ramallah's position.

Speaking in Jerusalem on Sunday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer expressed disappointment over discussions held with the Palestinian president last week.

“Frankly, I did not hear anything new from Abbas,” he said. “He indicated he was prepared to sit down and negotiate [with Israel] without preconditions, and then he referenced a number of preconditions.”

Still, Hoyer said, it was “very important” that the delegation members had an opportunity to hear from the Palestinian leader, “who is of course in the 14th year of his five-year term.”

Last week, a delegation of 41 Democratic members of Congress visited Israel. This delegation did meet with Abbas, as well as with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Their visit came amid reports of heightened tensions between Israel and the Democratic Party, which some members of the delegation denied.

“I’m not surprised at all that so many members joined us on this trip,” said Rep. Brad Schneider, a Democrat from Illinois, for whom this is his third visit to Israel since he was elected to Congress in 2012. “The press has their story, but this is what’s happening right now. We have more than 40 members on this trip, the majority of them freshmen. When I went on a similar trip in 2013, we had 34 members.”

Schneider spoke with Haaretz by phone hours after the delegation finished a visit to Ramallah. 

The trip has been organized by the American Israel Education Foundation, which is affiliated with AIPAC, the strongest lobby group supporting Israel in the United States. Hoyer has been the most senior Democrat to join such trips every other year, usually bringing with him a large group of recently elected freshmen members of Congress. The previous tour took place in 2017.

According to a list of participants viewed by Haaretz, more than 30 of the participants on the trip are freshmen members of Congress who were elected in the Democrats’ “blue wave” victory in the 2018 midterm elections.