WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump expressed nearly unreserved optimism that he could help Israelis and Palestinians resolve their conflict Wednesday, as he hosted Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for their first face-to-face meeting.
“We will get it done. We will be working so hard to get it done. It’s been a long time, but we will be working diligently, and I think there’s a very, very good chance,” Trump said during a joint press conference in the ornate Roosevelt Room of the White House.
The president, who has already began his attempt to broker a Mideast peace agreement — what he has referred to as “the ultimate deal” — said he would be willing to play whatever role was needed to strike the coveted but elusive accord.
“I will do whatever is necessary to facilitate the agreement,” he said to Abbas. “But I would love to be a mediator or an arbitrator or a facilitator.”
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Later, as he began a working lunch with Abbas, Trump said reaching an agreement, which has eluded successive administrations for decades despite intense efforts, might not be the Gordian Knot others have made it out to be.
“It’s something that I think is, frankly, maybe not as difficult as people have thought over the years,” he told Abbas. “We need two willing parties. We believe Israel is willing. We believe you’re willing. And if you are willing, we are going to make a deal.”
During the joint statements, Abbas used his remarks to tick off Palestinian priorities for reaching a deal, including elements that are non-starters for Israel, like going back to the 1967 lines.
“Our strategic option is to bring about peace based on the vision of the two-state [solution], a Palestinian state with its capital of East Jerusalem that lives in peace and stability with the state of Israel, based on the borders of 1967,” Abbas said.
Muting Palestinian uncertainty over how Trump would tackle the conflict, and nervousness over positions the US president has taken that seemed to upend US policy — like promising on the campaign trail to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — a contended-looking Abbas told the president he believed peace was possible under his stewardship.
“We believe that we are capable and able to bring about success to our efforts, because, Mr. President, you have the determination and you have the desire to see if come to fruition and become successful,” Abbas told Trump.
“I also believe that we will be able to solve the issue of the refugees and the issue of the prisoners, according to the terms of international law,” Abbas added.
Abbas also castigated Israel’s ongoing presence in areas beyond the pre-1967 lines. “It’s about time for Israel to end its occupation of our people and of our land after 50 years,” the Palestinian leader said. “We are the only remaining people in the world that still live under occupation. We are aspiring and want to achieve our freedom, our dignity, and our right to self-determination. And we also want for Israel to recognize the Palestinian state just as the Palestinian people recognize the state of Israel.”
In his remarks, Trump did not voice specific support for a two-state solution, but rather spoke more generally about his goal of reaching a deal. In a joint press conference he had with Benjamin Netanyahu, when the Israeli prime minister visited Washington in February, Trump backed away from insisting on that framework as the only resolution. “I’m looking at one state and two state, and I like the one that both parties like,” he said.
Ahead of their meeting, a White House official said Trump would press Abbas on ending payments to families of Palestinians imprisoned in Israeli jails for terrorism, as well as on tamping down anti-Israel incitement.
Trump subtly addressed the issue of Palestinian terror and incitement, something he frequently castigated on the campaign trail as an obstacle to a deal, during the joint appearance.
“There can be no lasting peace unless the Palestinian leaders speak in a unified voice against incitement to violate and violence and hate,” he said. “There is such hatred. But hopefully there won’t be such hatred for very long,” he said.
Abbas, for his part, asserted “that we are raising our youth, our children, our grandchildren on a culture of peace.”
Earlier this week, three GOP senators urged the US president to push Abbas on the PA’s social welfare payments to the families of terrorists.
The Palestinian leader said a final-status peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians would lead to Israel having normalized relations with other Arab nations.
“If we create peace that is just and comprehensive, that will also lead the Arab and Islamic countries to have normal relations with Israel, as based as stipulated on previous Arab summits,” he said.
Trump began his remarks by reminding the Palestinian leader that he was a signatory of the 1993 Oslo Accords, the first agreement between the two parties that was aimed at gradually resolving the conflict.
He told Abbas he wanted to help him sign his name on the “final” agreement that would finally put the decades-old dispute to bed.
“You signed your name to the first Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement,” he said as he turned to his counterpart. “You remember that well, right? I want to support you in being the Palestinian leader who signs his name to the final and most important peace agreement that brings safety, stability, prosperity to both peoples and to the region.”