Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has accepted an invitation by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to visit the Islamic republic, a top Palestinian official said Sunday. This will mark Abbas’ first visit to Iran. However, top Palestinian officials are playing down the visit's significance.
Tehran, which is hosting an international conference of the Non-Aligned Movement at the end of August, is also a patron of Abbas' political rival, Hamas.
According to Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad Malki, the trip "reflects our appreciation of this movement, which always supported the Palestinian position and the Palestinian cause. We cannot be absent from the summit of the non-aligned countries."
A senior Palestinian official told Israel Hayom, however, that Abbas' visit was not aimed at strengthening diplomatic ties between the Palestinian Authority and Iran, and that the authority was aware that such a move would be seen in a negative light by Washington.
In the past, Abbas has spoken out against Iran's backing for Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, leaving him with only the West Bank. Israel says that Iran sends weapons and cash to Hamas.
Abbas relayed his acceptance of the Iranian invitation in a meeting with Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian in Jordan on Sunday.
Abdollahian said Tehran wanted the two rival Palestinian factions to reconcile to bolster "Palestinian steadfastness and reach common ground on resistance in the face of threats by the Zionist entity." He added, "We also support Hamas."
Abdollahian said another invitation was given to Jordan's King Abdullah II through his prime minister.
Malki said foreign ministers from a number of Non-Aligned Movement members are expected in Ramallah at the end of July or beginning of August to work on a "Declaration of Palestine" to be adopted at the summit in Tehran. The declaration would sum up the movement's support for Palestinian political demands, including recognition of a state of Palestine in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Malki said that among those expected to attend are foreign ministers from countries that do not have diplomatic ties with Israel, such as Indonesia, Algeria, Cuba, Malaysia and Bangladesh.
The Palestinian Authority is trying to arrange for Jordanian helicopter transports for those foreign ministers so they can avoid Israeli border crossings, Malki said. Israel controls all passage in and out of the West Bank.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said such visits would have to be coordinated with Israel, but did not elaborate.