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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

PLO meeting: Review of Oslo Accords 'top of agenda'

It comes after Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said so-called peace efforts by the Trump administration were 'the slap of the century'

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas speaks during the opening session of the Palestinian Central Council in the West Bank city of Ramallah on January 14, 2018. Mohamad Torokman / Reuters
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas speaks during the opening session of the Palestinian Central Council in the West Bank city of Ramallah on January 14, 2018. Mohamad Torokman / Reuters

Palestinian leaders met on Monday to continue discussing their response to US president Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, after Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas denounced White House peace efforts as the "slap of the century".

The rare meeting of the Palestinian Central Council — a high-ranking arm of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) — began on Sunday evening in the West Bank city of Ramallah and is expected to last two days.

Top of the agenda on Monday was reviewing the Oslo agreements that the PLO signed with Israel in the 1990s, Fatah central committee member Azzam Al Ahmad said, according to the Palestinian Wafa news agency. Fatah is the leading member of the PLO.

Addressing the opening session of the Palestinian Central Council meeting on Sunday, Mr Abbas called for the Oslo Accords to be revised, citing Israel’s failure to implement them.

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With talks between the Palestinians and Israelis stalled since 2014, Mr Trump has sought to bring the two sides back to the negotiating table. But Mr Abbas has said his stance on Jerusalem means the United States can no longer be the mediator in peace talks.

Palestinians want the annexed eastern sector of Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

"We said 'no' to Trump, 'we will not accept your project'," Mr Trump said on Sunday evening.

"The deal of the century is the slap of the century and we will not accept it," the 82-year-old added, referring to Mr Trump's pledge to reach the "ultimate deal" between the Palestinians and Israelis.

Mr Abbas instead called for an internationally mediated peace process.

Israel, however, is unlikely to accept any other mediator than the US, accusing United Nations bodies of systematic bias against it.

The Palestinian Central Council delegates began meeting on Monday morning, with talks expected to end in the evening with a joint statement.

The last meeting of the PCC in 2015 called for ending security co-ordination with Israel, but this decision were non-binding and it was never implemented.

The Palestinians' relations with the US leadership have deteriorated rapidly since Mr Trump's election.

He came to power promising to lead the most pro-Israel administration in history, but also to pursue a peace deal.

His envoys, including senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, had been shuttling between the two sides in search of common ground.

But Mr Trump also infuriated the Palestinians by refusing to commit to the idea of an independent Palestinian state, and recently threatened to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in US aid.

The controversial Jerusalem announcement made last month prompted the Palestinians to freeze ties with the administration, and Mr Abbas is expected to shun US vice president Mike Pence when he visits the region next week.

On Sunday night, Mr Abbas attacked the US ambassadors to Israel and the United Nations, David Friedman and Nikki Haley, calling them a "disgrace".

Both Trump appointees have been strong supporters of Israel, with Mr Friedman having backed Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

An indignant Mr Abbas also said that Mr Trump had accused the Palestinians of refusing to engage in peace negotiations.

"May God demolish your house. When did we refuse?" he said, using a common Arabic curse.

US officials have said the Trump administration is preparing to withhold tens of millions of dollars from the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, cutting the year's first contribution by more than half or perhaps entirely, and making additional donations contingent on major changes to the organisation.

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Mr Trump has not made a final decision, but appears more likely to send only US$60 million (Dh220.4m) of the planned $125m first instalment to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), said the officials.

Future contributions would require the agency, which is facing heavy Israeli criticism, to demonstrate significant changes in operations, the officials said, adding that one suggestion under consideration would require the Palestinians to first re-enter peace talks with Israel.

The US state department said on Sunday that "the decision is under review. There are still deliberations taking place". The White House did not immediately respond to questions about the matter.

The administration could announce its decision as early as Tuesday, the officials said. The plan to withhold some of the money is backed by secretary of state Rex Tillerson and defence secretary James Mattis, who offered it as a compromise to demands for more drastic measures by UN ambassador Ms Haley.

Ms Haley wants a complete cut-off in US money until the Palestinians resume peace talks with Israel that have been frozen for years. But Mr Tillerson, Mr Mattis and others say ending all assistance would exacerbate instability in the Middle East, notably in Jordan, a host to hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees and a crucial US strategic partner.

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