Senior members of Donald Trump's transition team on Friday disavowed American businessman Daniel Arbess, who told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas earlier this week that the U.S. president-elect was serious about moving the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
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The Trump representatives stressed that Arbess in no way represents Trump or any of his advisers.
Haaretz reported on Friday morning that Arbess had presented himself to senior Palestinian officials as being close to the Trump team and a friend of Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Trump adviser Jason Greenblatt, who has been nominated as the president-elect's special representative for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, told Haaretz that "Daniel Arbess does not represent President-elect Trump, Jared Kushner or anyone in the upcoming Trump administration in any manner, nor does he know President-elect Trump’s views about Israel, the Palestinian Authority or the peace process. Only President-elect Trump or those designated by President-elect Trump speak on behalf of the upcoming Trump administration."
Another top official in Trump's transition team made an even harsher statement regrading Arbess. "Mr. Arbess barely knows Mr. Kushner," he said. "We hope others will not try to so brazenly misrepresent their relationship and claim to speak on behalf of Mr. Trump or his administration."
Overnight on Thursday, Haaretz reported that it was a meeting with Arbess that convinced the Palestinian president that Trump was serious in his intentions to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Until the meeting with Arbess, Abbas interpreted the U.S. president-elect’s declarations about moving the embassy as mere election slogans. But after the meeting in Ramallah, Abbas launched a campaign against the move.
A source who knows Arbess says that a few months ago he decided to ramp down his business activities and spend his time advancing solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
An American source who knows him says Arbess has friendly ties with the most significant man in Trump’s entourage, his son-in-law Jared Kushner. The source says Arbess and Kushner sit beside each other at the Kehilath Jeshurun synagogue in Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
A few days ago, Trump appointed Kushner as senior White House adviser. Trump has also said Kushner could play a role promoting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Around two weeks ago Arbess approached senior officials in Abbas’ office through the mediation of another American businessman, asking to meet with Abbas and the head of the Palestinian negotiating team, Saeb Erekat. The man who arranged the meeting introduced Arbess as a man close to Trump’s staff.
By then, all requests by Abbas’ people for a meeting with the president-elect had been denied. Hearing that Arbess was close to Trump’s staff, Palestinian officials agreed to his request and arranged a meeting with Abbas. An Israeli source familiar with details of the meeting said Arbess told Abbas that as far as he knew, Trump was serious about moving the embassy to Jerusalem and might announce this shortly after being sworn in on January 20.
A few days later Abbas sent a letter warning Trump about the fallout of moving the embassy.
According to the official Palestinian news agency Wafa, Abbas called on Trump to reconsider his support for such a move. “Abbas told Trump that such [a] move will likely have [a] disastrous impact on the peace process, on the two-state solution and on the stability and security of the entire region, since Israel’s decision to annex East Jerusalem contradicts with international law,” Wafa reported.
The Palestinians have enlisted Arab states to the campaign and several Arab ambassadors have met with senior Trump advisers in recent days, warning them not to move the embassy.