US says ‘no formal mechanisms’ yet for Israeli-Palestinian talks
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DC 'looks forward' to more Israeli moves to improve West Bank economy

US says ‘no formal mechanisms’ yet for Israeli-Palestinian talks

State Department says in meetings with Netanyahu and Abbas, Trump showed ‘eagerness to get going on the peace process’

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Stuart Jones holds a press briefing at the State Department on Tuesday, May 29, 2017 (screen capture)
Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Stuart Jones holds a press briefing at the State Department on Tuesday, May 29, 2017 (screen capture)

WASHINGTON — No formal framework for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians has been set up following US President Donald Trump’s visit to the Middle East last week, but the president wants to get going with peace efforts, the State Department said Tuesday. It praised a package of Israeli proposals to improve the West Bank economy, and said it looked forward to more.

“No formal mechanisms have yet been established,” Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Stuart Jones told reporters.

Jones, who accompanied US Secretary of Rex Tillerson on the Middle East portion of the trip, said that Trump told both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that he wanted the parties to start moving forward on peace.

“The message there was [a] very clear message of support for Israel, support for Israel’s security, and some eagerness to get going on the peace process,” Jones said.

Trump’s first presidential visit to the region appeared to go smoothly. He met with Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Abbas in Bethlehem, and spoke with spirited optimism about his capacity to mediate a deal between the two.

US President Donald Trump, left, and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas shake hands during a joint press conference at the presidential palace in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on May 23, 2017. (AFP/MANDEL NGAN)
US President Donald Trump, left, and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas shake hands during a joint press conference at the presidential palace in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on May 23, 2017. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)

“I am committed to trying to achieve a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and I intend to do everything I can to help them achieve that goal,” Trump said during a joint press appearance with Abbas.

“President Abbas assures me he is ready to work toward that goal in good faith, and Prime Minister Netanyahu has promised the same. I look forward to working with these leaders toward a lasting peace.”

Tillerson told reporters last week that Trump “pressured” both leaders to resume talks. “He put a lot of pressure on them that it’s time to get to the table,” the secretary said. “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.”

In a speech at the Israel Museum last Tuesday, Trump urged them to put aside the “pain and disagreements of the past” and declared that both sides were ready to move forward.

US president Donald Trump, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands after giving final remarks at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem before Trump's departure, May 23, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
US president Donald Trump, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands after giving final remarks at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem before Trump’s departure, May 23, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

But the president notably avoided all of the thorny issues that have stymied peace efforts for decades. He did not mention settlements, the status of Jerusalem, or even whether the US would continue to insist on a two-state solution giving the Palestinians sovereign territory.

Since the trip, Channel 2 reported that Trump yelled at Abbas for his alleged involvement in incitement against Israel, citing an unnamed American source.

“You tricked me in DC! You talked there about your commitment to peace, but the Israelis showed me your involvement in incitement,” Trump is said to have shouted at a shocked Abbas, according to the television report.

Palestinians have denied the report, saying the meeting went smoothly.

Before visiting Israel and the West Bank last week, Trump had already hosted both Netanyahu and Abbas at the White House. These meetings were designed to give the president a chance to hear from both sides and begin the process of striking what Trump calls “the ultimate deal” of Israeli-Palestinian peace.

In the nation’s capital, Abbas told Trump “that we are raising our youth, our children, our grandchildren on a culture of peace” — a claim Netanyahu went on to vigorously dispute.

US president Donald Trump delivers his final speech at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem before his departure, on May 23, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
US president Donald Trump delivers his final speech at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem before his departure, on May 23, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

While Jones said there was no formal mechanism in place yet to revive peace talks, he did say that proposals by Netanyahu’s government to improve the quality of life for Palestinians living in the West Bank constituted a welcome step.

Days before Trump and his delegation arrived in Israel, Israel’s security cabinet approved a package of economic measures to boost the West Bank economy.

These included opening the Allenby Bridge crossing between the West Bank and Jordan 24 hours a day, developing some West Bank industrial zones and allowing Palestinian building permits in Area C, where Israel has full administrative and security control.

“The Israeli side presented a series of economic measures to improve conditions on the West Bank,” Jones said. “Those are very positive measures, we look forward to more.”

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