WASHINGTON – The White House forcefully pushed back against a fresh round of insults from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, hurled at another senior member of the Trump administration, after remaining quiet for months throughout his attacks following the decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Since that December policy move, Abbas and his aides have repeatedly attacked President Donald Trump and his senior staff. Administration officials have declined to engage. But Abbas’s decision to target the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, as a “son of a dog” and a member of the settler movement, was seen in the West Wing as too extreme to ignore.
“The time has come for President Abbas to choose between hateful rhetoric and concrete and practical efforts to improve the quality of life of his people, and lead them to peace and prosperity,” Jason Greenblatt, the president’s special representative for international negotiations, said on Monday. “Notwithstanding his highly inappropriate insults against members of the Trump administration – the latest iteration being his insult of my good friend and colleague Ambassador Friedman – we are committed to the Palestinian people and to the changes that must be implemented for peaceful coexistence.
“We are finalizing our plan for peace,” he added, “and we will advance it when circumstances are right.”
Over the last three months, Abbas described Trump’s decision, to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US Embassy there from Tel Aviv, as the “slap of the century”– a move that, in Abbas’s view, disqualifies him from any role in peace talks between the PA and Israel. Abbas’s aides dismissed Greenblatt as a “Zionist,” told US Ambassador Nikki Haley to “shut up,” and have repeatedly criticized Friedman over his sympathy for the settler movement.
Trump administration officials have accepted the rhetoric as an understandable venting of anger in light of the Jerusalem moves. But Greenblatt’s new remarks suggest that they have reached their limit of tolerance, as they put final touches on the president’s peace plan.
The plan “won’t be loved by either side, and it won’t be hated by either side,” Haley told a Chicago university audience last month.
But the administration’s actions and rhetoric place it squarely at odds with the PA and in alignment with the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of the negotiation. And Abbas’s speech indicates no intention to return to the table – even if the plan, as Greenblatt says, will offer the Palestinians several enticing proposals.
“For the first time in decades, the US administration has stopped spoiling the Palestinian leaders and tells them: Enough is enough,” Netanyahu said in response on Twitter. “Apparently the shock of the truth has caused them to lose it.”
Communications Minister Ayoub Kara said that Abbas was “completely derailed.”
“His despicable and antisemitic remark toward the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, attests to the fact that Abu Mazen [Abbas] has ended his career, and that’s his swan song,” Kara said. “Incidentally, Friedman is right. We will continue to build everywhere, because this is our land.”
In his own response, Friedman suggested that Abbas’s insults against him might be antisemitic, addressing a conference on antisemitism in Jerusalem that day.