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Abbas asks Trump envoy to mediate over Palestinian hunger strike

Jason Greenblatt meets Palestinian leader in Ramallah to follow up on US president’s visit

By Dov Lieber and AFP May 25, 2017, 8:42 pm Comments - Source
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (R) meets with Jason Greenblatt, Donald Trump’ special representative for international negotiations, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on March 14, 2017. (AFP Photo/Abbas Momani)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (R) meets with Jason Greenblatt, Donald Trump’ special representative for international negotiations, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on March 14, 2017. (AFP Photo/Abbas Momani)
Writers
Dov Lieber
Dov Lieber Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel’ Arab affairs correspondent.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Thursday he has asked the United States to mediate on a standoff between Israeli authorities and Palestinian security prisoners on a weeks-long hunger strike.

Speaking to senior members of his Fatah party in Ramallah after meeting President Donald Trump’s special representative Jason Greenblatt, Abbas said he had spelled out his position to Greenblatt, who would convey it to the Israelis.

“We have explained in detail to American envoy Jason Greenblatt the issue of the prisoner strike and we have called for American intervention to ensure that the rights of prisoners are protected and their humanitarian demands are granted,” he said.

“We shall be in touch with him to give us the answer of the Israeli side,” Abbas said, adding he hoped to announce a response “in the evening or tomorrow.”

Greenblatt is in Israel and the Palestinian territories to follow up on Trump’s visit earlier in the week and to build on the president’s plans for a new Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative.

Greenblatt also reportedly met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, although no details of that meeting were released.

The hunger strike, which began on April 17, is being led by prominent Fatah political figure and convicted terrorist Marwan Barghouti.

Barghouti is serving five life sentences for murders committed during the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising.

Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails have been refusing food over conditions for about 6,500 Palestinian inmates.

Among their demands are access to telephones, more family visits, improved medical care and an end to punitive solitary confinement.

According to the PA, over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners have reached their 38th day of a hunger strike. Israel says the number is closer to 800.

Palestinians take part in a protest in support of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, on May 4, 2017. (Flash90)

On Tuesday, a senior White House official who gave a press briefing aboard Air Force One en route from Israel to Italy told reporters that the US was working on building strong relationships in the Middle East between Israel and its Arab neighbors that will build momentum for a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.

The official said that “the first step [toward peace]… is to bring relationships that are warm and strong privately and bring them more public and also set forth a common set of principles that everyone wants to abide by.”

While not providing details on what these common principles may be, the official said efforts should be “quiet and discreet.”

Trump has repeatedly said he is looking to broker the “ultimate deal” between Israelis and Palestinians and was convinced he could do so. Trump has tasked his son-in-law Jared Kushner and former real estate lawyer Greenblatt with charting a course forward. Still, White House officials had downplayed the prospects for a breakthrough on his trip, saying it was important to manage ambitions as they wade into terrain that has tripped up more-experienced diplomats.

US President Donald Trump delivers a speech during a visit to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on May 23, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Menahem KAHANA)

US President Donald Trump delivers a speech during a visit to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on May 23, 2017. (AFP/Menahem Kahana)

In a speech Tuesday at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the president heaped praise on Israel while calling on both sides to make compromises toward peace. He urged them to put aside the “pain and disagreements of the past” and declared that both sides were ready to move forward.

The president notably avoided all of the thorny issues that have stymied peace efforts for decades. He did not mention Israeli settlements, the status of Jerusalem or even whether the US would continue to insist on a two-state solution giving the Palestinians sovereign territory.

 

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