OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: President Donald Trump made a personal appeal for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, calling on both sides to put aside the “pain and disagreements of the past,” as he closed a four-day swing through the Middle East Tuesday.
But Trump departed for Europe having offered no real indication of a path forward on one of the world’s most intractable disputes. He pointedly sidestepped any mention of the thorny issues that have stymied all previous attempts at a peace deal, including the status of occupied Jerusalem, Israeli settlement construction and the Palestinians’ demand for a sovereign nation.
Trump’s vagueness on one of the region’s central issues did little to dampen the enthusiasm surrounding his visit, particularly from Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu. The prime minister, who had a frosty relationship with Trump’s predecessor, heaped praise on the president throughout the two-day visit, declaring: “We understand each other.”
During his quick stop in the region, Trump met with both Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Speaking at the Israel Museum, he declared both sides ready to move forward, though there were no tangible signs of the dormant peace process being revived.
“Palestinians are ready to reach for peace,” Trump said. Turning to the prime minister, who joined him for the speech, Trump said, “Benjamin Netanyahu wants peace.”
A longtime businessman, Trump has cast Middle East peace as the “ultimate deal” and has tasked son-in-law Jared Kushner and 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.
Trump appeared keen to build confidence and assure Netanyahu and Abbas of wider Arab support in the region for peace moves, in the hope they might see fit to take steps and negotiate themselves.From Israel, Trump headed to Italy for an audience with Pope Francis. He’ll close his ambitious first foreign trip at a pair of summits in Brussels and Sicily, where his reception from European leaders may be less effusive than his welcome in Israel and Saudi Arabia, his opening stop on the trip.
Trump and Netanyahu in particular lavished praise on each other during their multiple meetings. The prime minister, who repeatedly butted heads with President Barack Obama, leapt to his feet when the president declared Tuesday that his administration “will always stand with Israel.”
Yet some Israeli officials are less certain of Trump. In statements leading up to the trip, he’s taken a tougher-than-expected line on settlements, saying he doesn’t believe they help the peace process, though he’s stopped short of calling for a full construction freeze. He’s also backed away from his campaign pledge to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to occupied Jerusalem.
At the same time, Abbas and the Palestinians have been pleasantly surprised by their dealings with Trump. Tuesday morning, Trump met with Abbas in Bethlehem, traveling across the barrier surrounding much of the biblical city. Abbas said he was keen to “keep the door open to dialogue with our Israeli neighbors.” He reiterated the Palestinians’ demands, including establishing a capital in occupied East Jerusalem insisting that “our problem is not with the Jewish religion, it’s with the occupation and settlements, and with Israel not recognizing the state of Palestine.”