Former Envoys: Abbas ‘Shunning’ Friedman is a Non-Issue

The Trump Administration has reportedly protested Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ refusal to meet with U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. “Ties were further strained after Abbas refused to meet American ambassador to Israel David Friedman,” London-based Arabic daily al-Hayat reported on Saturday.

Two former U.S. Ambassadors to Israel, Martin Indyk and Daniel Shapiro, tell Jewish Insider that, if accurate, Friedman’s request to meet Abbas — or to join the U.S. negotiations team in Ramallah — is highly unusual. “The traditional US structure is that the Ambassador meets with Israelis, and the Consul General in Jerusalem meets with Palestinians,” according to Shapiro. “I never met with Abbas as Ambassador. I think this structure has also been the parties’ preference.”

How it works: “The U.S. diplomat who has responsibility for dealing with the Palestinian Authority is the Consul General in Jerusalem, who has no dealings with the Israeli government,” Indyk explains. Similarly, the U.S. Ambassador to Israel is not accredited to the Palestinian Authority and has no dealings with the Palestinian government in Ramallah. Generally, the Palestinians would love to have an ambassador deal with them because it connotes that they are a state. But not the US ambassador to Israel.”

Indyk did meet several times with then Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat but only in Gaza — in his first term (1995-1997) the U.S. Embassy had responsibility for Gaza — or to broker a ceasefire deal during the second intifada. “When I returned to Israel as ambassador the second time (2000-2001), I only met with Arafat in Ramallah or Gaza on instructions from Washington and in the company of the Consul General, but it would always be up to the Palestinian leader to agree to receive me,” said Indyk. “And it only happened in the context of trying to stop the intifada. I went with the Consul General to Ramallah and he went with me to the PM’s office in Jerusalem. As far as I know, that has never been repeated.”

“I gather the new team would like to change that, but Abbas apparently resisted,” Shapiro concluded.

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