Mahmoud Abbas, PA chief, claims willingness to renew ties with US

At J Street conference, Mahmoud Abbas claims he’s ready to ‘remove obstacles’ to relations with US, Sen. Elizabeth Warren urges using military aid to influence Israeli policy.

Ron Kampeas, JTA, & Arutz 7 ,

Mahmoud Abbas
Mahmoud Abbas
Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas claimed he was ready to “remove obstacles” to renewing US-Palestinian Authority (PA) ties.

Speaking Sunday to J Street’s annual conference, Abbas urged the participants of the liberal Middle East policy group’s forum to lobby Congress “to repeal all laws that block the road toward enhancing Palestinian-US relations.” The current law designates the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as a terrorist group and bans direct aid to the PA as long as payments are made to the families of PA terrorists jailed in Israel for any terrorism-related offense.

“On our part, we will remove all obstacles to achieve this goal,” Abbas said. “The continuity of these laws is frustrating and unconstructive.” He did not detail which “obstacles” he planned to remove.

At a news conference Monday, J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami encouraged Abbas to reform the payment program and make other changes, including ending anti-Israel incitement in official PA media and textbooks and holding long-delayed elections.

“I think the principle that the Palestinian Authority understands is that even many of those who have goodwill towards the cause of the Palestinian people are deeply disturbed by the shape of the current program and we’d like to see a reform,” Ben-Ami said.

US President Joe Biden campaigned on restoring assistance and reopening diplomatic ties with the PA. He has already restored nearly $300 million in aid through the UN relief agency UNRWA and other platforms.

In asking J Street to seek the rollback of US laws, Abbas named the 1987 law designating the PLO, an adjunct of the Palestinian Authority, as a terrorist group. The law has complicated US-PA relations for years — setting up a PA “diplomatic mission” in Washington, D.C., for example, required a special waiver. Abbas suggested that the basis for the law was moot, noting that the PLO had recognized Israel and entered into agreements with it.

The J Street conference, held virtually this year, was a celebration of the group’s renewed influence now that Democrats hold the White House and lead both chambers of Congress. There were greetings from an array of Democrats, including moderates like Reps. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, and party leaders Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the American ambassador to the United Nations, spoke Monday evening.

Also speaking were Israeli leaders who oppose the right-wing government led by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, including former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who succeeded Netanyahu following Netanyahu’s original tenure in the 1990s.

J Street, once an organization that sought bipartisan reach and managed to attract a handful of Republicans to its conferences, now makes no pretense of being anything other than in the Democratic camp. Speaker after speaker at the conference extolled the ouster of Trump and Democratic wins in Congress.

J Street prides itself as being “pro-Israel” and “pro-peace,” but many, if not most, Jewish constituents believe that the organization actually undermines the interests of the State of Israel and Jewish people. In the past, the group has expressed support for BDS of Jewish goods made in Judea and Samaria.

One of the many topics tackled at the conference was an exploration of a Palestinian-Israeli confederation as a means of preserving the two-state solution. Also on the agenda was advocacy for restrictions on how Israel spends US assistance.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who spoke Monday afternoon, said “it would be irresponsible not to consider all of the tools we have at our disposal” to influence Israel, including military assistance. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who spoke that night, delivered a similar message. During their unsuccessful presidential bids last year, both Sanders and Warren said aid to Israel should no longer be untouchable.

Warren also weighed in on coalition negotiations in Israel, urging parties not to endorse Netanyahu for another term.

“Will they continue to fight among themselves and, in the process, prop up a corrupt leader who puts his own interests ahead of those of his country?” she said, referring to Netanyahu’s current trial on corruption charges. “Or will they join together to begin the difficult task of rooting out corruption and reinstating the rule of law?”