Ramallah – Donald Trump invited on Friday Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to visit the White House “soon” during a telephone call between them, the first with the Palestinian leader since Trump’s election as US president.
The invitation marks an important shift in his policy towards the Palestinian Authority and is seen as an implicit recognition of the need to deal with it as a direct party to resolve the conflict in the region.
Trump invited Abbas “to visit the White House soon to discuss ways to resume the (Palestinian-Israeli) political process,” the official Palestinian news agency Wafa quoted Abbas’ spokesman as saying.
The spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeina, said that Trump stressed his “commitment to a peace process that would lead to a real peace between Palestinians and Israelis”, Wafa reported.
Abbas told Trump that peace was a “strategic choice” for the Palestinian people that should lead to the “establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel”.
In Washington, the White House said Trump “emphasized his personal belief that peace is possible and that the time has come to make a deal.”
“The president noted that the US cannot impose a solution on the Israelis and Palestinians, nor can one side impose an agreement on the other,” said a statement from Trump’s spokesman Sean Spicer.
Abbas called Jordan’s King Abdullah II shortly before his conversation with Trump, amid reports that the US president’s team is eyeing a regional approach to a new Israeli-Palestinian peace process. On February 2, King Abdullah was the first Arab official to meet Trump after he was elected to office on January 20.
Abbas and Abdullah had discussed during their phone call the latest developments linked to the Palestinian cause and the region. They also addressed ways to ensure the success of the Arab summit that is scheduled to be held in the Jordanian capital Amman at the end of March.
Trump’s phone call with Abbas comes a week before Jason Greenblatt, the US president’s advisor for international negotiations, plans to visit the Middle East next week where he will meet with Abbas, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior officials. He is slated to visit Jerusalem to discuss settlement construction with Israeli officials.
The US is seeking to limit Israeli settlement expansion because it is seen as an obstacle to launching a new negotiations process.
Trump had previously said he did not necessarily see settlements as an obstacle to peace. Since his inauguration, Israel has announced plans to build at least 6,000 more settler homes, a substantial increase and an indication that Israel took Trump’s softer language as a green light.
But during Netanyahu’s visit mid-February visit to the White House, Trump said he wanted the Israeli prime minister to “hold back on settlements for a little bit,” a position that took Netanyahu by surprise. Israeli and US officials are now discussing what the parameters are on settlements.
At a February 15 news conference during Netanyahu’s visit, Trump was ambivalent about a two-state solution, the mainstay of US policy in the region for the past two decades.
“I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like … I can live with either one,” Trump said, causing consternation across the Arab world and in many European capitals.
The White House has since been more cautious on the issue.