WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday that US President Donald Trump “pressured” Israelis and Palestinians to return to the negotiating table during his recent visit to Israel and the West Bank.
“There were very substantive discussions in Israel with both PM Netanyahu as well as [Palestinian Authority] President Abbas,” Tillerson told reporters aboard Air Force One. “He put a lot of pressure on them that it’s time to get to the table.”
Tillerson further said that Trump “very forceful” pushing both sides that a peace deal will require them to make difficult compromises.
“The president was very forceful in his encouragement to both of them to be serious about approaching these discussions in the future and recognize they have to compromise; everyone has to compromise,” he said.
America’s top diplomat also suggested that Israeli-Palestinian peace could be a catalyst to greater regional peace, what is sometimes referred to as the linkage argument.
Trump “has made the point several times: We solve the Israeli-Palestinian peace dilemma, we start solving a lot of the peace throughout the Middle East region,” he said.
Israel has repeatedly rejected similar suggestions, saying that the great issues of the Middle East — like the Syrian civil war, the conflict in Yemen, poverty in Egypt or tensions between Sunnis and Shia — have nothing to do with the Israel-Palestinian conflict, which some argue is used as a fig leaf by the Arabs to avoid confronting their real issues.
During Trump’s visit to Israel and the West Bank on Monday and Tuesday, he repeatedly emphasized his desire to help broker a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, but offered little on how he would encourage the two sides to revive peace talks.
On Tuesday, another senior US official said Trump is working on building strong relationships in the Middle East between Israel and its Arab neighbors that will create momentum for a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.
“The first step [toward peace]… is to bring relationships that are warm and strong privately and bring them more public and also set forth a common set of principles that everyone wants to abide by,” the official said.
Trump has repeatedly said he was looking to broker the “ultimate deal” with Israelis and Palestinians and is convinced he could do so.
He has tasked his son-in-law Jared Kushner, and former real estate lawyer Jason Greenblatt with charting a course forward. Still, White House officials had downplayed the prospects for a breakthrough on this trip, saying it was important to manage their ambitions as they wade into terrain that has tripped up more experienced diplomats.
In a speech Tuesday at the Israel Museum, the president heaped praise on Israel, while calling on both sides to work toward peace. He urged them to put aside the “pain and disagreements of the past” and declared that both sides were ready to move forward.
The president notably avoided all of the thorny issues that have stymied peace efforts for decades. He did not mention Israeli settlements, the status of Jerusalem or even whether the US would continue to insist on a two-state solution giving the Palestinians sovereign territory.
In a meeting with opposition leader Isaac Herzog on Tuesday, Kushner said Washington intended to move fast to advance a renewal of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, a spokesman for Herzog said, with Trump’s envoy Jason Greenblatt reportedly set to return next week so as not to leave a “diplomatic vacuum.”
Herzog met with Trump, Kushner and Netanyahu for several minutes, after the US president’s speech at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and just before Trump departed the country.
Kushner, who along with international negotiations envoy Greenblatt has been tasked by Trump with relaunching the peace process, reportedly told Herzog: “We are planning to move fast in starting a diplomatic process in order to reach a deal.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.