As the White House prepares to unveil its long-awaited plan for a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians, CNN has learned that the Trump administration has made a renewed attempt to speak to the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas.
The Palestinian Authority broke off all official relations with the White House and the State Department after President Donald Trump declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel in December 2017, though the PA continues to cooperate with the United States on security issues.
But according to two senior Palestinian officials close to Abbas, who both spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity, the administration recently sent a message through a third party asking whether Abbas would accept a phone call from Trump.
Neither official was prepared to put a date on when the attempt was made, nor would they discuss the identity of the third party. Both officials indicated the White House overture had been rebuffed.
The White House did not respond to CNN’s request for comment, but six senior Palestinian officials contacted by CNN, among them PLO chief negotiator Saeb Erakat, insisted there had been no contact between Abbas’s office and the White House for more than two years.
Asked by reporters on Thursday about any conversations he had had with the Palestinians about the upcoming announcement of the peace plan, Trump said the administration had spoken to the Palestinians “briefly,” also saying they will speak to them “in a period of time.”
“There have been no brief contacts about the deal of the century,” a senior Abbas aide told CNN, adding, “the Palestinians were not briefed.”
While Palestinians appear unwilling to end their policy of no contact with the White House, Israel’s two leading politicians find themselves in a race to the US over the next 24 hours to see who can meet with Trump first.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has described the launch of the peace plan as a “historic opportunity,” announced two days ago he would attend a meeting with Trump on Tuesday, adding that he hoped his rival Benny Gantz would also attend.
Gantz then announced he would come to Washington a day earlier for a one-on-one with Trump, only for Netanyahu to move his meeting with the US President up to Monday as well, according to an Israeli government official speaking to CNN. The precise timing of the appointments is not known.
Gantz made his announcement on Saturday evening. And there had been widespread speculation he would decline the White House invitation over concerns he could appear a marginal figure at any meeting that included Trump and Netanyahu.
He is also desperate to avoid getting distracted from his main aim, which is defeating Netanyahu’s bid for immunity from prosecution, and leading his party to a victory over the prime minister in the March general election.
Israel’s parliament holds a key vote on the immunity request Tuesday. And the hearings expected to follow will provide Netanyahu’s last chance to avoid being charged with bribery and fraud and breach of trust. He denies any wrongdoing.
While details of what is in the White House peace plan have yet to be made public, there is widespread expectation that it will be more favorable to Israel than any previous US proposal.
The Palestinians say that any plan that envisages a Palestinian state without Jerusalem would be meaningless, and any move that allows Israel to annex West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley would mean the death of the two-state solution.
Using a well-known nickname for Netanyahu, the PLO’s Saeb Erakat told CNN the plan had nothing to do with peace but was actually aimed at ‘Saving Private Bibi.’
CNN’s Amir Tal and Jeremy Diamond contributed to this report.