Lawmakers on Abbas’ cancellation of Pence meeting

WASHINGTON – After President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas informed the White House on Sunday that it would be canceling an upcoming meeting with Vice President Mike Pence in the West Bank.

“I think it’s their (Palestinians) loss, it’s their mistake. They had an opportunity to meet with the Vice President about a very important issue — engagement with Israel — they should do it,” Representative Francis Rooney (R-FL) told Jewish Insider on Monday evening. Rooney, who formerly served as US Ambassador to the Vatican during the George W. Bush administration added, “that ranks right there with Arafat walking out when Ehud Barak offered him basically everything he wanted back in the Clinton era. I believe that West Jerusalem has been part of Israel since 1949. It’s kind of a charade to make a big deal out of this. It’s typically illustrative of the problem that we face in many parts of the Middle East of people who are either perpetrating Jihad or real close to it at times when they don’t get what they want.” Rooney added, “that’s not the way we work in the civilized world.”  

Israeli officials overwhelmingly praised Trump’s shift on Jerusalem as correcting a historical injustice of the international community refusing to recognize the country’s capital. However, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Maliki assailed the White House’s decision charging that the US “has withdrawn itself from the peace process” and “positioned itself as an actor in the conflict and not as a mediator.”

“I hope Abbas changes his mind and meet with him because I think we need a two state solution,” emphasized Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL), a member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Noting Ramallah’s attacks on how this impacts the US role going forward in the peace process, she explained, “I don’t know that we are going to mediate it: maybe we will, maybe we won’t, but somehow we have to get him (Abbas) to the table.“

Pence’s Press Secretary Alyssa Farah critiqued Abbas for canceling the meeting in a statement on Sunday. “It’s unfortunate that the Palestinian Authority is walking away from an opportunity to discuss the future of the region,” she said while touting the administration’s commitment to reaching peace between the parties.  

At the same time, Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) was more critical of the Trump administration for the meeting’s cancellation. “These are some of the consequences of US foreign policy which tend to be more unilateral US actions,” he noted. The California lawmaker urged Abbas to rethink his decision, but added, “The US is probably also missing an opportunity for peace by doing this (Jerusalem recognition)  without consulting (allies). This is the same thing we have done with the Paris agreement and the Iran agreement. The more we go it alone, the less likely we are to have the support of the international community to bring about a peace agreement.”

Pence’s visit to the region will also include stops in Egypt and Israel where he will highlight the plight of Christians and reaffirm US support for its allies in the Middle East.

Rep. David Valadao (R-CA) said Abbas’ decision was “disappointing.” Citing the overwhelming bipartisan Congressional support for the decision, Valadao added,  “I don’t think this is what their (Palestinians) issue is. They are just finding something to point fingers at.”

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