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