Abbas Will Drop Settlement Freeze as Condition for Talks With Israel, Top Adviser Says

Aides to Palestinian leader tell Bloomberg news that new atmosphere created by Trump's involvement is driving Abbas to seek new negotiations

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas after making statements to the press, Tuesday, May 23, 2017, in the West Bank City of Bethlehem
Evan Vucci/AP

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas intends to give up on his demand for a freeze of Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank as a pre-condition for restarting peace negotiations, a top adviser to the Palestinian leader told Bloomberg in an article published on Thursday.

Mohammed Mustafa, an economic adviser to Abbas and former deputy prime minister, told Bloomberg in an interview that, "We have not made the settlements an up-front issue this time."

Though Abbas has stuck to the demand for a settlement freeze prior to negotiations for years, Mustafa suggested that the situation has changed, thanks in large part to a new atmosphere created by the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump in January. "We think it's better for all of us right now to focus on giving this new administration a chance to deliver," he told Bloomberg.

Trump, who has repeatedly stated his determination to pursue a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, became the first U.S. president to visit the region on his first foreign trip last month, when he met with Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mohammad Shtayyeh, another aide close to Abbas, said that the Palestinian leadership saw promise in Trump's direct involvement in the region and said they were further encouraged by Trump's recent decision to postpone moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

"There is a new dynamic," said Shtayyeh. "With this administration, the White House is engaged and that's a huge difference." Shtayyeh's hope for progress is also measured however, telling Bloomberg: "That doesn't mean I'm optimistic. Don't misunderstand."

Beyond the new and unique presence of Trump on the scene, Mustafa said there are other factors pushing Abbas to seek out new negotiations including high unemployment in the West Bank and a poor financial situation exacerbated by a failure by the international community to deliver funds that were promised to the Palestinians.