x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Clinton to meet Abbas in Abu Dhabi

The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is to meet Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, to revitalise the Middle East peace process.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, right, shakes hands with the Pakistani interior minister Rehman Malik, left, during a visit to Islamabad on October 29, 2009.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, right, shakes hands with the Pakistani interior minister Rehman Malik, left, during a visit to Islamabad on October 29, 2009.

ABU DHABI // The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is to meet Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, in Abu Dhabi today, in a concerted effort to revitalise the Middle East peace process. Both Mr Abbas and Mrs Clinton arrived in the capital last night for today's closed-door discussion, which is part of a weekend effort to push both the Israeli and Palestinian sides to resume talks, stalled for almost a year.

Mr Abbas was greeted at the airport by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Foreign Minister, according to the state news agency WAM. Mrs Clinton had travelled to Abu Dhabi after wrapping up a three-day official trip to Pakistan. The secretary of state was also expected to meet Emirati leaders during her trip here, a US official in Washington told The National on condition of anonymity. Reuters news agency said Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, was expected to meet Mrs Clinton, although it was not clear if he would participate in the meeting with Mr Abbas.

The decision to host the meeting in Abu Dhabi was in line with GCC efforts to stabilise the Middle East, analysts said. "This should not be interpreted as the UAE playing a mediating role," said Christian Koch, the director of International Studies at the Gulf Research Center. "The UAE is simply facilitating the meeting. This has to be done. If they want to use one of the GCC countries to assist in the effort, then it is completely in line with the common position of these countries on the peace process."

Mrs Clinton will be joined by the Obama administration's special Middle East peace envoy, George Mitchell. Mr Mitchell has been shuttling between Israel and the Palestinian Territories over the past few months to speak with leaders. He was in Israel meeting Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, yesterday, although no details of their talks were released. Mrs Clinton was also expected to travel on to Israel to meet Mr Netanyahu tomorrow. The time and place of that meeting were reportedly still being worked out.

"One would like to see the revitalisation of the talks and bring it back on track," said Mr Koch. "It will lessen some of the tension." However, both Israeli and Palestinian officials have held out little hope of an imminent resumption of talks. Commenting on the subject of the talks, Mr Koch said it was likely they were simply relaying to each side any progress made. However, he warned against expecting any "large scale announcements" after the Abu Dhabi meeting, cautioning that it should be seen in context, as only one in a series of get-togethers laying the ground for a resumption of talks.

"This is a regular series of consultations that will continue that is best directed between the US, Palestine and Israel." Mr Abbas has insisted Israel freeze settlement activity under a 2003 "road map" for peace before any resumption of talks, a demand Mr Netanyahu has rejected. However, Mr Netanyahu has acceded to US pressure to talk of negotiating the creation of a Palestinian state, but only if it is demilitarised and if Palestinians agree to recognise Israel as a Jewish state.

Mr Koch said he expected Mr Mitchell and Mrs Clinton to update Mr Abbas about how far they had progressed in convincing Israel to cease settlement activities. "The expectation is that the US shows Abbas a conciliatory way forward," Mr Koch said. The two meetings come as Mrs Clinton prepares to meet Arab foreign ministers at a development summit in Morocco next week in an effort to drum up regional support for new peace moves.

Her weekend visit to the region will be her second since President Barack Obama took office in January. Mrs Clinton reported last week to Mr Obama that Mr Mitchell had made little progress in convincing Israel and the Palestinians to resume talks. Mr Crowley noted that "challenges remain as we continue to work with both sides". He said the talks would take place ahead of meetings in Morocco. "The administration is committed to comprehensive peace, including a two-state solution," Mr Crowley said.

@Email:sbhattacharya@thenational.ae