Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held five hours of talks with a senior adviser to US President Donald Trump in Jerusalem on Monday, in which they discussed opportunities for advancing peace between Israel and its neighbors, and tried to formulate a coordinated approach for the two leaderships on the issue of settlements. At a press conference with Netanyahu last month, Trump had urged Israel to “hold back on settlements a little bit.”
At the meeting with Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s special envoy for the peace process, the two “reaffirmed the joint commitment of both Israel and the United States to advance a genuine and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians that strengthens the security of Israel and enhances stability in the region,” according to a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office.
The two men discussed Israeli settlements “in the hope of working out an approach that is consistent with the goal of advancing peace and security,” the statement read.
Greenblatt told Netanyahu that “enabling the growth of the Palestinian economy and improving the quality of life for Palestinians” were important to Trump. The prime minister replied that he was “fully committed to broadening prosperity for Palestinians,” seeing the issue “as a means of bolstering the prospects for peace.”
The Prime Minister’s Office said Netanyahu told Greenblatt that he believes that it would be possible, under Trump’s leadership, “to advance peace between Israel and all its neighbors, including the Palestinians, and he looks forward to working closely with President Trump to achieve that goal.”
Greenblatt reaffirmed to Netanyahu, according to the statement, the president’s commitment “to Israel’s security and to the effort to help Israelis and Palestinians achieve a lasting peace through direct negotiations.”
Greenblatt is to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday as part of an attempt to broker fresh peace talks after years of stagnation. In a phone call on Friday, Trump invited Abbas to the White House in the near future.
Greenblatt took to Twitter late Monday night after the meeting to say that he and Netanyahu “discussed [the] regional situation, how progress towards peace with Palestinians can be made & settlements.”
— Jason D. Greenblatt (@jdgreenblatt45) March 13, 2017
He also expressed appreciation for Netanyahu’s “time and commitment to partnership with the US.”
— Jason D. Greenblatt (@jdgreenblatt45) March 13, 2017
Prior to the start of their sit-down Monday, Netanyahu told Greenblatt that he “hope[s] we can do some good things together,” to which Greenblatt responded, “I hope we’re going to do great things together.”
Greenblatt’s visit marks the first major attempt by the new US administration to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, after two months that have seen officials dither on support for the two-state solution, the location of the US Embassy and opposition to building in settlements.
The goal of Greenblatt’s visit was reportedly to formulate the Trump administration’s position on settlements, including what the US will accept in terms of where and how much Israel can build.
In Washington prior to the meeting, State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters Greenblatt would be doing “a lot of listening, discussing the views of the leadership in the region, getting their perspectives on the current situation and how progress toward eventual peace can be made.”
“I characterise it as the first of what will become many visits to the region,” Toner added.
He said that the issue of settlements would be discussed. “We see them as a challenge that needs to be addressed at some point,” Toner said.
In his upcoming meeting with Abbas, Greenblatt won’t be bringing new proposals, PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said on Sunday, while adding that Tuesday’s meeting would focus on planning for Abbas’s trip to Washington.
On Friday, Trump held his first phone conversation with Abbas, inviting him to visit the White House. On Sunday, Abbas said that his phone conversation with Trump was “constructive” and that the US president had “confirmed his full commitment to the peace process.”
He added: “We will continue to cooperate with [Trump], in order to arrive at a comprehensive and just peace that will bring security and stability to everyone.”
Channel 2 quoted Israeli officials Sunday expressing satisfaction that the Trump-Abbas call had gone well, since, they said, Israel supports a resumption of negotiations without preconditions.
During his visit to Washington last week, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman was told by administration officials that the new US leadership was seeking a two-state deal, dispelling lingering doubts in that regard, Channel 2 reported.
At a joint press conference with Netanyahu on February 15, Trump said: “I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like,” leading to speculation concerning Trump’s commitment to the two-state solution.
The US administration is currently said to be weighing how to proceed with a renewed peace effort after Abbas’s imminent visit to Washington. One possibility being considered is a regional summit, to be held in Egypt or Jordan. If such a summit would be substantive, rather than a mere photo op, Trump would be prepared to attend, sources close to the president were quoted by the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth on Sunday as saying. The White House is trying to ascertain whether the Saudis can be drawn into this process, the newspaper said.
Trump intends to visit Israel in the first year of his presidency, the paper reported, and might combine the trip with a summit of this kind.
Alternatively, Trump may invite Abbas and Netanyahu to the White House, to announce the resumption of direct talks.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story erroneously included that Abbas said Trump had expressed commitment to a two-state deal, based on a Palestinian transcript of the speech.
AFP contributed to this report.