TRUMP TO PLAY PEACEMAKER
US president, however, has not offered any cohesive strategy or deadline
UNITED States President Donald Trump vowed on Wednesday to do “whatever is necessary” to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians as he hosted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House, but gave no sign of how he could revive long-stalled negotiations.
In their first meeting, Trump pressed Abbas to do more to stop “incitement to violence” against Israelis.
Even as Trump predicted he would achieve peace where other presidents had failed, he stopped short of recommitting his administration to a two-state solution to the decades-old conflict, a long-standing foundation of US policy.
Trump told Abbas: “I will do whatever is necessary... I would love to be a mediator or an arbitrator or a facilitator, and we will get this done.”
Trump has faced deep scepticism at home and abroad over the chances for him to achieve any quick breakthrough, not least because his administration has yet to articulate a cohesive strategy for restarting the moribund peace process.
Abbas’ White House talks followed a February visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Trump sparked criticism at the time, when he appeared to back away from a two-state solution, saying he would leave it up to the parties to decide.
The meeting with Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority, was another test of whether Trump is serious about pursuing the kind of peace deal that eluded his predecessors.
Trump insisted he was ready to try to reach the “toughest deal”. But when he later sat down to lunch with the Palestinian leader, he said it was “maybe not as difficult as people have thought over the years”.
Trump, who said he decided to “start a process” but offered no new policy prescriptions or timetable, may be underestimating the challenge when trust between the two sides is low.
“You can’t just pretend you only have to handle a few key issues and that’s it,” said David Makovsky, a member of Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama’s negotiating team during the last talks, which collapsed in 2014.
Still, plans are being firmed up for Trump to visit Netanyahu in Jerusalem and possibly Abbas in the West Bank on May 22 and 23.
US and Israeli officials have declined to confirm the visit.
Abbas promised that under “your courageous stewardship and your wisdom, as well as your great negotiating ability”, the Palestinians would be partners seeking a “historic peace treaty”.
But under pressure at home to avoid major concessions, the 82year-old leader said: “It’s about time for Israel to end its occupation”, referring to Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Abbas, however, did not repeat in public his demand that Israel freeze settlement construction on land Palestinians want for a state as a condition for negotiations. Reuters
United States President Donald Trump (right) with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House in Washington on Wednesday.