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US Jewish leader meets with Abbas

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas held talks with World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder in the West Bank on Saturday, following a call by the influential American business leader for the Palestinians to revive peace talks with Israel.

The talks in Ramallah were disclosed by Palestinian Authority Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh in a Twitter posting, but he provided no further details.

Lauder, a longtime supporter of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party, has met with Abbas previously including a year ago in New York. Lauder also attended the 15 September White House signing ceremony of an agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to normalize ties.

Speaking to the Saudi Arab News newspaper on 16 September, Lauder expressed hope the Abraham Accords would also bring the Palestinians and Israel back to peace talks, which collapsed in 2014.

According to a statement from the World Jewish Congress, Lauder met the Palestinian leader on Saturday “for a private visit at Abbas’ invitation, to discuss a range of issues regarding Palestine and the Middle East.”

A person familiar with the matter in Washington told Reuters that Lauder’s visit was not coordinated with or on behalf of the Trump administration but was in a strictly private capacity. Lauder is a registered Republican, who lost his bid for New York City’s mayoral race in 1989 when beaten by Rudy Giuliani in the party primary.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Palestinians severed all diplomatic ties with the United States after accusing the Trump administration of a pro-Israel bias. They have also bitterly rejected any Arab normalization of ties with the Jewish State.

A Palestinian official told Reuters on condition of anonymity that Lauder was not carrying a message from the White House. A second Palestinian source said Abbas discussed the call he made at the United Nations last month for a U.N.-led peace conference early next year.

Back in June of 2012, Lauder placed a full page advertisement in the Wall Street Journal calling for Abbas to accept Prime Minister Netanyahu’s offer to resume direct talks, including the message that, “it takes two sides to make peace.”

At that time in a later statement, Lauder revealed that he had personally met with Abbas, when he “urged him to accept this historic chance to make peace and achieve statehood.” He then added that, “though Prime Minister Netanyahu has made repeated offers to come to meet at any time and any place for direct talks, Israel has remained alone at the peace table.”

It is interesting to note that Netanyahu tasked Lauder to conduct Track II negotiations with then Syrian President Hafez al-Assad in 1998. Even though the World Jewish Congress leader continued to engage in his efforts under the subsequent premiership of Ehud Barak, the negotiations failed to yield a breakthrough and Syria and Israel remain in a formal state of war.