Donald Trump’s joint appearance Wednesday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas must have made for deeply troubling viewing in the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.
The US president, who was expected to be far tougher on the Palestinians than his predecessor Barack Obama, could hardly have been more warm, gracious and welcoming.
The US president who has not given a carte blanche for settlement building, and who has not — or at least not yet — moved the embassy to Jerusalem, again disappointed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; he could not have given Abbas an easier time.
Netanyahu insists that the hierarchy overseen by Abbas is encouraging incitement and hostility to Israel, and thus encouraging Palestinian violence and terrorism. The prime minister fumes that the hierarchy overseen by Abbas is paying salaries to terrorists and their families — rewarding murderous attacks on Israelis. In short, Netanyahu emphatically regards Abbas as part of the problem, an obstacle to peace.
Trump, in complete contrast, made clear throughout his brief remarks that he regards Abbas as a central, viable part of the solution.
He hailed Abbas for signing the Oslo Accords on the White House lawn 24 years ago, recalling that his guest was a signatory to that first agreement and hoping that the PA president would, in due course, be able to sign a final, permanent accord.
Clearly placing Abbas on the good side of the battle against terrorism, he noted that Abbas has spoken out against terror, and he enthused about what he called the “unbelievable,” “beautiful” relationship that Abbas’s security forces have with their Israeli counterparts.
He certainly warned that there could be “no lasting peace” unless the Palestinian leadership spoke in a unified voice against violence and hatred. But that was the mildest of upbraids; there was no direct accusation that Abbas has been doing anything wrong.
He spoke of the desire to unlock the economic potential of the Palestinian people.
He hailed Israel’s “great” leaders, including Netanyahu, and then immediately referred to the Palestinians’ “great” representatives.
He even detailed what he said were Palestinian contributions to American well-being, including what he said were existing partnerships relating to regional security and counter-terrorism.
Trump made clear that he wants a peace deal, and will do everything in his power to broker one, but won’t impose it. Abbas could not have looked more content.
You can be sure, ahead of time, that there was a great deal going on behind the scenes regarding the content of Trump’s comments in his 15-minute presentation with Abbas. You can be sure that Israel had numerous points it hoped the US president would make. Israel’s Ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, said to be so closely connected to leading figures in the administration, would presumably have been involved in such efforts. Few if any of the messages the Netanyahu government would have wanted to hear appear to have been included.
Here’s how warm and welcoming the US president was: If you looked away, and didn’t know that it was the Palestinian Authority president who was standing alongside him, you might have thought Trump, talking so warmly about his guest, was hosting an Israeli leader.