The US 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, a senior White House official said late Tuesday. The official was speaking after US President Donald Trump wrapped up a visit to the region, first in Saudi Arabia then in Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
The official said that “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, who gave a press briefing aboard Air Force One en route from Israel to Italy, did not provide details on what these common principles may be, but said efforts should be “quiet and discreet.”
“Hopefully the more we can build trust the more we can have open dialogues around these things in a way that has not happened before, I think that gives us a better chance of having success in this issue.”
The official hailed the “very successful” and “historic” trip to Saudi Arabia and Israel, saying Trump “united the entire Muslim world in a way that it really hasn’t been in many years.”
“The overall objective that we want to accomplish here is really try to find a peaceful way to create a new direction for the Middle East,” said the official, and “build very strong relationships with all the different people, not just the parties involves, but all the people in the neighborhood. And also try to create a lot of momentum and optimism around the prospect for peace.”
The trip was also “essential towards trying to reestablish America’s credibility in the region,” the Trump 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. Trump 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 make compromises 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 Prime Minister Benjamin 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.”
Greenblatt accompanied Trump during his two-day visit in Israel and had held a series of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials ahead of Trump’s arrival.
Trump, meanwhile, told Herzog, the Zionist Union leader: ““I am serious about a deal and I am determined.”
Herzog told Trump that Netanyahu would receive the support of the opposition in advancing the peace process.