US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and chief Middle East adviser, Jared Kushner, met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas Wednesday night as part of a 24-hour visit to the region in an effort to advance the administration’s ongoing push for peace negotiations.
The White House said in a statement that the meeting, which was also attended by Trump’s peace envoy Jason Greenblatt, was “productive” and that both Abbas and Kushner “reaffirmed their commitment to advancing President Trump’s goal of a genuine and lasting peace” between Israel and the Palestinians.
But hinting at challenges facing such efforts, both sides “underscored that forging peace will take time and stressed the importance of doing everything possible to create an environment conducive to peacemaking,” the statement added.
Kushner has been tasked by the president with advancing peace efforts, and Wednesday’s meetings, which included an earlier warm reception from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his Jerusalem office, marked his first solo foray in the region, after he accompanied Trump here last month.
Nabil Abu Rdineh, a senior Abbas aide, said in a statement that Kushner addressed some of the thorniest issues on the table in his meeting with Abbas and stressed Trump’s commitment to restarting negotiations.
“The meeting has deeply and clearly discussed all the permanent status issues, mainly refugees and prisoners,” Abu Rdineh said, according to Palestinian media sources. “During the meeting, Kushner told President Abbas that President Trump is committed to reaching a serious peace deal.”
US officials, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, have said that they are pushing Abbas to end incitement to violence against Israel, and to stop paying stipends to terrorists and their families. At the same time, it is understood that the US does not want to impose preconditions that would prevent a resumption of substantive peace efforts.
A senior Palestinian official said before the meeting that a preparatory meeting with Greenblatt on Tuesday had not gone well and became tense over the payments. He said the Americans “are buying” Netanyahu’s complaints about Palestinian incitement, and that Greenblatt was insisting on an end to the payments.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing a closed diplomatic meeting, said the Palestinians had rebuffed Greenblatt’s pressure and demanded an Israeli settlement freeze. He said a Palestinian delegation would head to Washington next month for further talks.
Sitting down with Netanyahu on Wednesday, Kushner and other US officials discussed “potential next steps” to make progress on Trump’s goal of “a genuine and lasting peace” between Israelis and Palestinians, the White House said. The meetings are aimed at laying the groundwork for a resumption of negotiations for the first time in three years.
“The United States officials and Israeli leadership underscored that forging peace will take time and stressed the importance of doing everything possible to create an environment conducive to peacemaking,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said.
Kushner, whose family has a long relationship with Netanyahu, met with the Israeli leader for about three and a half hours before heading to the West Bank city of Ramallah for his late-night confab with Abbas.
The Trump administration faces the same obstacles that have doomed previous attempts by a string of Republican and Democratic administrations: deep disagreements over key issues such as borders, dueling claims to Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees and their millions of descendants.
But Kushner enjoys advantages that could allow him to make at least some progress. Trump made a successful visit to the region last month and appears to have forged a good working relationship with both sides.
The new atmosphere of goodwill, along with concerns of potentially provoking the unpredictable president, could give Trump leverage in extracting concessions from the sides.
“This is an opportunity to pursue our common goals of security, prosperity and peace, and Jared I welcome you here in that spirit, I know of your efforts and the president’s efforts and I look forward to working with you to reach these common goals,” Netanyahu told Kushner as the two men shook hands before the talks.
Netanyahu went on to say that Trump’s visit to Israel last month was a “historic trip, with fantastic warmth, and made an indelible impression on the people of Israel.”
Despite the ostensible warm welcome Kushner received from both Israel and the Palestinians, however, well-placed sources have also told The Times of Israel that there are no imminent plans for a Netanyahu-Abbas summit.
AP contributed to this report.