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Donald Trump

Trump plays up Middle East peace prospects as he meets Palestinian leader Abbas in Bethlehem

Trump’s visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories is part of his first trip abroad as president

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 May, 2017, 7:55pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 May, 2017, 10:29pm

US President Donald Trump talked up the prospects of peace between Israelis and Palestinians on Tuesday, saying he believed both sides were committed to an historic deal, but he offered no concrete proposals on how to get there.

After an hour of talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Trump condemned the bomb attack in Manchester that killed 22 people, calling the perpetrators “evil losers”.

He then moved on to address efforts towards Middle East peace.

“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 said, with the 50th anniversary of Israel’s capture of territories that Palestinians seek for a state approaching next month.

“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.”

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 manoeuvre 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.

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.

“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.”

Security was tight for Trump’s journey to Bethlehem, a 20-minute drive from Jerusalem but located across Israel’s separation wall.

The wall is part of a project begun in 2002 during the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, that is to extend some 700 kilometres once completed.

After Israel and the Palestinian territories, Trump will head to the Vatican, and to Brussels and Italy for Nato and G7 meetings.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse