US President Donald Trump reiterated on Tuesday his commitment to achieving peace between Palestinians and Israelis, believing that both sides share his sentiment.
After an hour of talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Trump said: “I am committed to trying to achieve a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians and I intend to do everything I can to help them achieve that goal.”
He offered no concrete proposals on how to get there.
“President Abbas assures me he is ready to work towards that goal in good faith, and Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu has promised the same. I look forward to working with these leaders towards a lasting peace,” remarked Trump.
He added that he “truly hopeful that America can help Israel and the Palestinians forge peace and bringing new hope the region and its people.”
“If Israelis and the Palestinians can make peace, it will begin a process of peace all throughout the Middle East. That would be an amazing accomplishment,” said the US president.
Standing alongside Trump, Abbas, 82 and in the 12th year of his original five-year term, said he was determined to deliver an agreement for all Palestinians, although he did not provide any substance on how such an objective could be achieved.
“I would like to reiterate our commitment to cooperate with you in order to make peace and forge an historic peace deal with the Israelis,” he said, speaking through an interpreter.
The Palestinian president stressed that the conflict with Israel is not of a religious nature, saying: “Our main problem is with the occupation and settlements.”
Abbas called on Israel to accept the demands for better conditions by hundreds of imprisoned Palestinians who have been on a hunger strike for 37 days.
“And we would like to reassert our willingness to continue to work with you as partners in fighting terrorism in our region and in the world.”
While Trump has spoken frequently in the months since he took office about his desire to achieve what he has dubbed the “ultimate deal”, he has not fleshed out any strategy his administration might have towards achieving it. He also faces difficulties at home, where he is struggling to contain a scandal after firing James Comey as FBI director two weeks ago.
He has appointed his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as a senior adviser on brokering an agreement, while Jason Greenblatt, formerly a lawyer in Trump’s real estate group, has taken the day-to-day role of liaising with officials and leaders in the region on the nitty-gritty contours of any solution.
The last talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, led by former US secretary of state John Kerry, broke down in April 2014 after around a year of largely fruitless discussion.
While both Netanyahu and Abbas have made positive noises about their readiness to negotiate, both also face domestic constraints on their freedom to maneuver and strike a deal.
Netanyahu must deal with opposition from rightist elements within his coalition who oppose any steps towards a two-state solution to the decades-long conflict. Abbas’s Fatah party is at sharp odds with the Islamist group Hamas, which is in power in Gaza, leaving no unified Palestinian position on peace.
During meetings with Netanyahu on Monday, Trump focused attention on the threat from Iran but also talked about the opportunities for peace in the region and how Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations were shifting their stance, potentially opening a window towards a regional agreement.
One of the long-standing regional proposals is a Saudi peace initiative that was first put forward in 2002 and has been re-endorsed several times since.
In effect, it would offer Israel recognition by the Arab world and the “normalization” of relations in exchange for a full withdrawal from the territory Israel has occupied since the June 1967 Middle East war, including East Jerusalem. It also urges a “just settlement” of the Palestinian refugee problem.