WASHINGTON - A senior Palestinian official denied on Thursday the report that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas refused to take a call from the White House this week, stating that it is completely false.
Saeb Erekat, who has been the Palestinians' chief negotiator in the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, said that Abbas did not refuse to take a call from Jared Kushner, who is President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser. Erekat added that Abbas respects and appreciates Kushner.
On Wednesday, Lebanon's Al-Mayadeen TV reported that instead of taking Kushner's call, Abbas referred him to the Palestinian Authority's representative in Washington. The White House also denied the report.
The alleged snub comes on the heels of the instructions given by Abbas on Tuesday to freeze Palestinian contacts with the U.S. This decision came after Trump's threat to close the Palestine Liberation Organization mission in Washington, D.C.
The White House is demanding that the Palestinians drop their request for The Hague's International Criminal Court to investigate Israel, as well as not resisting an American peace initiative as two preconditions for the PLO to continue its activity in the U.S.
Abbas' spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said on Tuesday that "the coming period will be a determining one in relation to the definition of the Palestinian-American relationship."
Speaking about the newly-introduced American demands, Rudeineh stressed that "Abbas' instruction stems from faith in the Palestinian path."
Vice President Mike Pence is slated to visit the Palestinian city of Bethlehem in December, but despite the recent diplomatic escalation, his visit is still scheduled to proceed as planned.
A senior Palestinian government official familiar with the developments told Haaretz that Abbas' instruction to sever ties is being executed by the higher ranks, but that lower ranks continue to engage with U.S. officials.
The source further clarified that Palestinian officials will agree to hold talks with senior officials in the Trump administration should Washington initiate such a dialogue.
"What's important to the Palestinians is to convey the message and the clear stance to the [American] government, and not to cut off ties just for the sake of cutting off ties," the source explained. "It should not be forgotten in this case the power play [between the parties], especially when it comes to such a world power as the United States."
According to a senior member of the Palestinian Authority, the American threat to shut down the PLO mission in Washington is an unprecedented move. The source said that the threat has triggered the biggest rift between the PA and the White House in recent years.
"In meetings with President Trump, Abbas received very relaxing messages, and on the other hand we are dealing with such a stance by the [American] government that casts doubt on the whole relationship," the source said. "The question to be asked is: How does the White House explain this disparity?"
Despite Abbas' stern message, the administration in Washington continues to insist that ties between the U.S. and the PA remain intact.
White House spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters in Washington that the U.S. has a good relationship with the Palestinian Authority and that talks with the Palestinians about the future of the PLO offices in Washington are still ongoing.
Nauert added that at this point, the PLO mission is still operating as usual. According to her, the Trump administration has not given up its ambition to help achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace, a goal defined as a "top priority" in the White House.
Speaking to Haaretz on Wednesday evening, a Palestinian government official said that the White House has tried to reach out to the PA and invite Abbas to a meeting in Washington in the coming weeks, but that the PA chair was not quick to respond to the invitation.
According to the official, Ramallah prefers to have senior American advisers and the U.S. State Department instead meet with the head of the Palestinian negotiation team, Saeb Erekat, who is currently in Washington recovering from an operation, or with the head of Palestinian intelligence, who is considered to be Abbas' personal envoy to contacts with the U.S. and multiple world leaders.
The official also said that there was no further information about the topics Kushner wanted to discuss with Abbas but that the latter remains firm in his decision to sever ties with Washington until the dispute over the PLO mission is resolved.
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