Abbas Hosts World Jewish Congress President
Ron Lauder’s visit part of effort to persuade Ramallah to return to negotiations, Palestinian official tells The Media Line
American businessman Ron Lauder arrived at the presidential compound in Ramallah, the West Bank, on Saturday for a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Lauder, the World Jewish Congress (WJC) president and a supporter of US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, arrived on a Jordanian helicopter for the unannounced meeting.
A Palestinian official in Ramallah told The Media Line on condition of anonymity that the visit was an attempt by Lauder to persuade the Palestinian leadership to return to negotiations.
Political analysts say having the WJC president fly on a Jordanian helicopter sends a message to the PA that Amman is on board any efforts to help reconnect Ramallah and Washington.
Ziad Abu Zayyad, a former Palestinian official, told The Media Line that the US administration is exerting pressure on Ramallah through Amman.
“It shows that there is American pressure on Jordan to meditate with the help of King Abdullah and try to restart communication between the Palestinian leadership and the United States.”
Netanyahu and Trump are facing a tough time domestically; both are seeking some achievement or a breakthrough and concessions in the Palestinian position so that Trump can use it to his advantage in his election campaign
Dr. Mosheer Amer, a professor of linguistics at the Islamic University of Gaza whose research includes the language of news media, and national identity and nationalism, agrees that the PA is under pressure, but he told The Media Line it is a different kind of pressure.
“This visit comes as part of the efforts by pro-Israel elements to put pressure on the Palestinian Authority to continue its security collaboration with the Israeli occupation, with the intention of maintaining Israeli security interests and Israeli settlers’ safety in the occupied territories.”
Abbas announced an end to long-standing security coordination between the PA and Israel last May, in response to Netanyahu’s plans to annex parts of the West Bank.
An adviser to Abbas confirmed to The Media Line that Lauder did not bring any message from the White House, but added that the PA president is well aware of his friendships with both Trump and Netanyahu.
Amer says domestic policies in both Israel and the US played roles in the visit.
“Netanyahu and Trump are facing a tough time domestically; both are seeking some achievement or a breakthrough and concessions in the Palestinian position so that Trump can use it to his advantage in his election campaign.”
According to the adviser who attended the meeting in Ramallah, Abbas discussed with Lauder his demand that he made in his speech to the General Assembly in New York last month for a UN-led peace conference to be held early next year.
The American billionaire’s visit comes a few weeks ahead of the November 3 US election. He participated in the peace signing ceremony between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in Washington on September 15.
The two big Palestinian factions, Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, and Fatah, the ruling party in the West Bank, have engaged in intensive reconciliation talks since the UAE and Bahrain signed the agreements with Israel.
The reconciliation talks are supposedly in an advanced stage, and according to Palestinian officials, plans to hold presidential and parliamentary elections are underway.
Abu Zayyad says the recent developments and rapprochement between Hamas and Fatah “were a red flag for the American administration, Israel and Arab countries, and they are either pressuring Abbas or offering him inducements to persuade him to change his direction.”
The former PA official argues that they want to prevent Abbas from reaching a deal with Hamas.
“Nobody in the West or the United States is interested in seeing Hamas return to being a player in Palestinian affairs. They don’t want Abbas to form a government with it [Hamas] and it getting involved in the decision-making process again.”
Hasan Awwad, an expert on Palestinian affairs, told The Media Line that the WJC head’s visit is not isolated from the recent developments in the region.
“Lauder is close to Netanyahu, and he has the ear of the US administration. He is also known as one of the godfathers of normalization.”
Awwad says this visit comes at a time when the PA leadership is experiencing “isolation” from the Arab world. The UAE and Bahrain normalizing relations with Israel and the prospect of other Arab governments following suit have weakened the PA and made it “irrelevant” in the eyes of many, he adds.
“We have not seen many world leaders visit Ramallah for a meeting with President Abbas in a long time; therefore this is a visit that the PA president is happy to see take place,” Awwad says. “There is an aggressive attack on the Palestinians now by many officials in some Gulf states, as part of a concerted effort by those loyal to Trump to force the PA to agree to the White House’s terms.”
Earlier this year, Abbas cut all ties with the US administration after Trump unveiled his plan for Middle East peace.
The Palestinians have shown no sign of backing down on their decision not to speak with either Israel or the US.
We are not counting on Joe Biden; we know that Joe Biden would be another version of [former secretary of state] Hillary Clinton and Obama. So, we don’t expect something dramatic from Biden
One official in Ramallah told The Media Line the PA is hoping that former vice president Joe Biden will win the US election but wants to keep a line of communication open with the Trump administration if case the incumbent is reelected.
“I think Joe Biden is seen by the PA as someone who is less hard-line than Trump, but I don’t see a big difference between the two,” Amer says. “The balance of power in the US is totally in favor of Israel regardless of who occupies the White House.”
Abu Zayyad thinks Biden’s policy toward the Palestinians would be a continuation of those of former president Barack Obama’s administration. “I don’t think he will make any drastic change to the American policy [regarding the Palestinians].
“And that’s putting it lightly! We are not counting on Joe Biden; we know that Joe Biden would be another version of [former secretary of state] Hillary Clinton and Obama. So, we don’t expect something dramatic from Biden.”
Abu Zayyad warns of another major decision by the Trump administration regarding the Palestinians before the US vote.
“We can expect Trump to do something to enhance his chances of winning the election, and these measures could be made at our expense.”
When asked what might be the nature of those measures, Abu Zayyad said he does not know, but he added that “people with devilish minds can always think of things that others didn’t expect. We should be prepared and ready to confront it whatever it may be.”