Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday evening suggested that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was avoiding direct talks that could resurrect the peace process, hours after his first-ever meeting US President Donald Trump.
“We had planned to meet in Moscow, but he didn’t show up,” Abbas said, referring to Netanyahu in the context of Russian efforts to set up such a meeting last year.
Netanyahu and Abbas have repeatedly declared their willingness for face-to-face talks, and blamed each other for dodging the proposed September 2016 meet-up in Moscow.
Abbas at the time said Netanyahu moved the meeting, effectively canceling it, while Netanyahu said the Palestinian demands for preconditions to the talks derailed the possible summit.
Trump hosted Abbas, 82, to the White House on Wednesday as part of his efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
The two leaders “reaffirmed the commitment of both the United States and the Palestinian Authority to achieving a genuine and lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians,” the White House said.
Afterwards, Abbas told reporters his first meeting with the US president left him hopeful, even though they did not discuss specifics about how to restart the long-stalled peace process.
Abbas said he believed the Trump administration could play an important role as a mediator.
“What is needed is to bring the two parties together, to bring them closer and then to facilitate things between them,” he said.
Trump also struck an optimistic note Wednesday, saying he believed an Israeli-Palestinian agreement could be reached. He did not voice specific support for a two-state solution, but rather spoke more generally about his goal of reaching a deal.
Despite the lack of specifics, Abbas described his meeting with Trump as positive and said that “we build hopes on it.”
“So far, we didn’t talk about a mechanism, but the contacts between us and the Americans began and will continue,” he said.
Abbas’s positive portrayal of the meeting with Trump may not be enough for a skeptical public at home. Many Palestinians have become disillusioned with Abbas’s strategy, after two decades of intermittent US-led rounds of negotiations all ended in failure while Israeli settlements keep expanding.
In the West Bank, the main focus appears to be a hunger strike by hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, now in its 18th day.
At the time of the Abbas-Trump meeting, several thousand Palestinians attended a solidarity rally for the prisoners, with speakers calling for a new campaign of civil disobedience against Israel.
Abbas also faces fierce opposition from his main political rival, the terrorist group Hamas, which seized the Gaza Strip from him in a 2007 takeover. Hamas has dismissed Abbas’s strategy of negotiations as a waste of time and said he does not represent the Palestinians.
After a decade of failed reconciliation attempts with the rulers of Gaza, Abbas recently adopted a tougher stance, saying he would use financial pressure to force Hamas to cede ground.
His West Bank-based autonomy government announced this week that it will stop paying for electricity Israel sends to power-starved Gaza — about $11 million a month.