Trump-Abbas meeting: Positive words but no plan in sight

Sunday 07/05/2017
Mutual flattery. US President Donald Trump (R) reaches to shake hands with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas at the White House in Washington, on May 3. (AP)

Washington - US President Donald Trump hosted Pal­estinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House, the first meeting between the two lead­ers and the latest in a succession of meetings Trump has had with Middle East leaders. Abbas con­ferred with two of those leaders — Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdullah II — immediately prior to his arrival in Washington.

Trump met Abbas at the White House entrance on May 3 and, before escorting him inside, ex­pressed hope that “something ter­rific” could happen between the Palestinians and Israel. “I think there is a very, very good chance,” Trump said.

Neither leader revealed de­tails of their conversation in the post-meeting news conference but Trump said that an agree­ment could not be imposed by the United States. Rather, peace would have to be negotiated “directly” between the two sides. Trump did, however, pledge that the United States would “do whatever is nec­essary” to help the two sides reach an agreement.

Trump praised Abbas for fighting terrorism and said he was pleased to learn that Israeli and Palestinian security forces work “unbelievably well together… They work togeth­er beautifully.” He called on the Palestinian leader to work against incitement — sources say that Is­raeli Prime Minister Binyamin Net­anyahu lobbied Trump to focus on this issue with Abbas — but quickly added that “hopefully there won’t be such hatred for very long.” Pre­sumably, Trump was referring to an imminent peace accord.

Trump also noted with admira­tion Abbas’s role in the Oslo Peace Accords of 1993, an agreement that most Palestinians said was a fail­ure and that Israel had consistently violated.

While Trump mentioned no details for how peace would be achieved — or what a peace deal would look like — Abbas went straight to the point, saying that it is time for Israel “to end the occu­pation of our people.”

Abbas advocated for a two-state solution as the only viable option and said the peace process should be based on the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, in which every Arab country offered peace to Israel af­ter the establishment of a Palestin­ian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. The initiative was recon­firmed at the recent Arab League summit.

In closing, Abbas turned to Trump and said: “With you, Mr President, we now have hope.” He praised Trump’s “courageous stewardship” and “great negotiat­ing ability.” Trump replied that he had been warned that Palestinian- Israeli peace “was the toughest deal to make.” Turning to Abbas, he said: “Let’s prove them wrong.”

Trump earlier said that bringing about peace is “something that I think is, frankly, maybe not as dif­ficult as people have thought over the years.” He did not mention, or was not aware of the fact, that the three US presidents before him had committed substantial energy and resources to achieving peace with­out success.

Trump and Abbas then had lunch with Vice-President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, national security adviser H.R. Mc­Master and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who has been des­ignated to oversee the US role in peace talks. Abbas was joined by chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and other aides.

At the daily White House brief­ing, Trump’s spokesman Sean Spicer said the two leaders had dis­cussed ways in which the United States could assist the Palestin­ian economy and that Trump had asked Abbas to “resolve” the issue of Palestinian Authority payments to the families of Palestinians jailed by Israel — another Netanya­hu demand. Because Israel regards all jailed Palestinians as “terror­ists,” Netanyahu views such pay­ments as Palestinian support for terrorism and has tried for years to pressure Abbas to end them.

Despite the positive language and mutual flattery, nothing sub­stantial appears to have come from the Trump-Abbas meeting: There was no indication by either side that a new peace process is about to be launched.

Trump seems to view ending nearly 70 years of Palestinian-Is­raeli conflict as being akin to nego­tiating a real estate deal in which the two actors do the bargaining and he is called in as needed.

For Abbas, the priority appears to be to avoid alienating the US president and preventing more ex­tremist voices in his camp — such as US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman — from winning the in­ternal debate. It was also impor­tant for Abbas to publicly reiterate the Palestinians’ demand for a vi­able two-state solution.

Abbas will return home to a pow­er struggle with Hamas, which just days before the Washington meet­ing revised its charter to accept the 1967 borders, if not the state of Is­rael; a hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners in Israel; and continuing displeasure over his leadership by many in the West Bank.

Trump will return to his domes­tic agenda, on which he is yet to register a major success after 100 days in office, and to more pressing crises such as North Korea.