by Yaakov Katz
Donald Trump welcomed Palestinian Authority (Fatah) President Mahmoud Abbas to White House in Washington on May 3, 2017.
Since then, Abbas has crossed the Rubicon and voiced “unprecedented” readiness to reach a peace deal with Israel, sources close to the efforts to renew talks between Israel and the Palestinians have told The Jerusalem Post. Abbas, according to the sources, made this clear to President Donald Trump during their meeting at the White House last week. The president plans to use his trip to Israel later this month to receive assurances from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he, too, is committed to a peace agreement.
Since his meeting with Trump last week, Abbas has changed his rhetoric, issuing a number of statements meant to reflect flexibility on previous demands. He has, for example, said that he would renew the talks under Trump’s auspices without preconditions. In the past, he had said he would not negotiate with Netanyahu without a freeze to settlement construction.
He has also sent his advisers to the press to declare that the Palestinians are prepared to negotiate land swaps with Israel, a recognition that some West Bank settlements will remain part of Israel in the framework of a future deal.
Netanyahu, on the other hand, has largely remained quiet. The strategy within the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem seems to be to wait and hope not to be blamed for preventing the success of the peace talks Trump is planning to restart following his visit on May 22.
As reported earlier this week in Maariv and the Post, the person responsible for this change in Abbas is Ronald Lauder, the American billionaire and head of the World Jewish Congress, who is one of the closest people to Trump. Lauder has publicly said that he has known Trump for over 50 years and that he is a “great and true friend” of Israel.
Before Abbas met with Trump last week, he stopped by Lauder’s house for dinner and got briefed on ways to win over the president. To some, it seems that Lauder has bypassed Sheldon Adelson as the most influential Jew in Trump’s circle.
Lauder has been pushing for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal for years and was in Cairo two months ago for a meeting with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ahead of the Egyptian leader’s visit to the White House. Lauder, sources say, seems to have been tapped by the president as something of a semi-official envoy to the region with an emphasis on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Politicians who spoke to Lauder at Sunday’s Jerusalem Post Conference in New York later told the Post that he told them about his meeting with Abbas. At the same time, Netanyahu told confidants that he was furious over the American Jewish leader’s involvement.
“You don’t understand how much influence he has over Trump,” the prime minister told a confidant in a private conversation this week.
“Out of the people around Trump, he is my biggest challenge to overcome.”