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President Barack Obama welcomed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the White House on Monday in a bid to rekindle a fledgling peace process that has all but collapsed under Palestinian rejection and a massive influx of terrorist rocket attacks on Israeli civilians.
Obama hosted Abbas in the Oval Office for a “working lunch” and praised the Palestinian leader as “somebody who has consistently renounced violence.”
Obama omitted all references to Palestinian terrorism and last week’s rocket attacks, many of which were claimed to have been launched by a militant branch of Abbas’ own Fatah political party.
The meeting comes at a critical time in the Middle East peace process, a priority for Secretary of State John Kerry.
Efforts to push both sides into signing an interim agreement that would lay the groundwork for a permanent deal have crumbled in recent weeks after Palestinian factions rejected the deal and resorted to launching nearly 200 rockets at Israeli civilians.
Obama lavished praise on Abbas during a joint press conference held before the two retreated from reporters for a one-on-one discussion.
“I have to commend President Abbas,” Obama said. “He has been somebody who has consistently renounced violence, has consistently sought a diplomatic and peaceful solution that allows for two states, side by side, in peace and security; a state that allows for the dignity and sovereignty of the Palestinian people and a state that allows for Israelis to feel secure and at peace with their neighbors.”
However, talks have in part broken down on the Palestinians ongoing refusal to publicly recognize Israel as a “Jewish state.”
Obama also did not touch on Abbas’s ongoing support for Palestinian terrorists who were released from Israeli jails last year in good faith as a precursor to the talks.
Abbas awarded in July the “highest order of the Star of Honor” to Nayef Hawatmeh, leader of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which has killed Israeli schoolchildren and others.
In October of last year, Abbas welcomed back home a group of 26 released Palestinian terrorists as “our heroic brothers,” according to the media monitoring site Palestinian Media Watch.
“We welcome our heroic brothers who come from behind bars to the world of freedom. We congratulate ourselves and we congratulate all of you in this great celebration that unifies and returns our sons to us,” Abbas was quoted as saying of the terrorists.
He made similar remarks in December.
Abbas said during a press conference with the president on Monday that he is looking forward to the return of another group of Palestinian terrorists, which he views as a chief priority going forward.
“We have an agreement with Israel, that was brokered by Mr. Kerry, concerning the release of the fourth batch of prisoners and we are hopeful that the fourth batch will be released by the 29th of March because this will give a very solid impression about the seriousness of these efforts to achieve peace,” Abbas said.
Obama, in his own remarks Monday, said that the United States remains the Palestinian Authority’s biggest global champion.
“The United States obviously has been a strong supporter of the Palestinian Authority,” Obama said. “We’re the largest humanitarian donor and continue to help to try to foster economic development and opportunity and prosperity for people, particularly young people like those that I met.”
As Obama struggles to put the peace process back on track, Abbas has indicated that he does not plan to negotiate past April 29, when he will revert to using the United Nations as a way to unilaterally gain recognition for a Palestinian state.
This could cause quite a bit of conflict between the Obama administration and Congress, which previously passed a law to cut off all U.S. funding to any U.N. organization that recognizes a state of Palestine. Congress has repeatedly refused to offer a waiver.
“You’re going to have a fight between Congress and the administration,” said Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). “And the Palestinian quest for international recognition could ultimately prompt the U.S. to de-fund scores of agencies.”