The encounter was “very positive,” Palestinian officials exclaimed. “There will be a new dawn of relations with the Trump administration,” they opined. It was “a very pleasant meeting,” they gushed. “He was very sympathetic,” and “the atmosphere was excellent and warm.”
These words of praise were used generously by senior Palestinian officials to describe the first face-to-face meeting between US President Donald Trump and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday at the White House.
Trump welcomed the PA president warmly, introducing him to his prized son-in-law Jared Kushner and others.
“He heard the Palestinian position on the two-state solution and the need for American involvement, even in the context of the Arab Peace Initiative. He was very interested,” one senior Palestinian official told The Times of Israel, referring to the 2002 peace proposal in which Arab states offered to normalize ties with Israel in exchange for a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders and a solution for Palestinian refugees.
It seems that Trump has internalized what the Israeli security establishment has been saying at every opportunity: Abbas is not part of the problem but part of the solution.
Even as they pay salaries to Palestinian security prisoners jailed in Israel, Abbas and the PA remain an important element of Israel’s security — no matter how difficult that is for the right to swallow.
But the more challenging question is whether there was actually any real content discussed, either in the private conversation between the two leaders or in the working lunch that followed with their advisers.
Abbas, for his part, indicated there wasn’t.
“So far, we didn’t talk about a mechanism, but the contacts between us and the Americans began and will continue,” he told reporters on Wednesday night, hailing the meeting as positive.
While the warmth and rapprochement between the two may be cause for concern for the Israeli government, it does not seem that Trump actually gave Abbas much to write home about.
Moreover, some Palestinian officials present at the White House meeting were quick to cool the enthusiasm, noting that while the reception was wonderful, “we must hope that tomorrow morning [Trump] will still feel the same.”
Indeed, the Palestinian side has quite a few causes for concern on the morning after.
First, the issue of moving the American embassy to Jerusalem has yet to fizzle out of the political debate, and is still being actively considered, according to Vice President Mike Pence.
More alarming to Ramallah is the legislation making its way through US Congress to stop aid to the PA if it continues to pay salaries to families of security prisoners.
Abbas knows that stopping these payments would be political suicide. His former foreign minister Nabil Shaath on Thursday called the demand “insane.” But a refusal to comply carries the risk of severely damaging economic aid to the PA, which is already struggling financially.
Meanwhile, the London-based Al-Hayat reported Thursday that Trump had promised Abbas an Arab “political umbrella” — Saudi, Egyptian and Jordanian backing if the PA leader agreed to enter talks with Israel.
According to the report, Trump is considering a trilateral summit with Netanyahu and Abbas during his anticipated visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority later this month.
Such a meeting would be an early achievement for the new US president, certainly in comparison with the Obama administration, whose policies caused both sides to lock themselves behind their respective positions and avoid direct contact.
At the same time, complicating matters, the American president is even more cautious than his predecessors when it comes to speaking of a particular solution to the conflict, not even uttering the words “two states” in the meeting.
Perhaps Trump has a new trick up his sleeve, the miraculous formula to usher in Israeli-Palestinian peace. For now, though, in the absence of any tangible plan or strategy, a “pleasant,” “warm” and “excellent” atmosphere will have to do.