By Ali Sawafta
RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Sunday he would only accept a broad, internationally-backed panel to broker any peace talks with Israel, but did not rule out a U.S. role in such a panel.
The Palestinians are seething at U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition last month of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and Abbas told a meeting of senior Palestinian officials in a speech that the move had disqualified the United States as a peacemaker.
Israel says it would welcome the United States as a mediator but a U.S. bid to revive negotiations, led by Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has so far shown no progress. Talks have been frozen since 2014.
Trump has said that achieving an agreement would be the “deal of the century” but Abbas was scathing on Sunday, saying: “The deal of the century is actually the slap of the century, and we will return it.”
“We do not accept the United States as a mediator between us and Israel,” Abbas said. “Let it be an international committee formed at an international conference comprising four or five (countries or parties). But the United States alone? No.”
Abbas’s comments were made at the start of a two-day meeting in Ramallah of the Palestinian Central Council, the Palestinians’ highest decision-making body, where 95 delegates will debate future strategy.
“WILL NOT ACCEPT U.S. MEDIATION”
“We will not accept anything the United States may try to impose on us and we will not accept its mediation following that crime,” said Abbas, referring to Trump’s Jerusalem decision.
Palestinian officials have said they will not meet U.S. Vice President Mike Pence when he visits Egypt, Jordan and Israel this month.
Since 2002, a ‘Quartet’ of Middle East peace negotiators comprising the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations has been assigned to promote peace efforts, but failed to show any result.
Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital reversed decades of U.S. policy and has enraged Palestinians and triggered violent protests in Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Israel considers Jerusalem to be its eternal, indivisible capital. The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in a move never recognized internationally.
“Jerusalem was taken off the table by a tweet from Mr. Trump. Because of that we are meeting now, because there is nothing more important than Jerusalem,” Abbas said.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Kevin Liffey)