Abbas says ready to meet Israel PM as part of Trump peace efforts
JERUSALEM: Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas said Tuesday he was ready to meet Israel’s prime minister as part of peace efforts by Donald Trump, who is expected to visit the Palestinian territories “soon”.
The US president is expected in Israel later this month as part of his first foreign trip and Abbas said “we are looking forward to his visit soon to Bethlehem” in the occupied West Bank, with speculation it will occur on May 23.
Abbas met the US president in Washington last week for their first face-to-face talks.
“We told him that we were ready to collaborate with him and meet the Israeli PM (Benjamin Netanyahu) under his auspices to build peace,” Abbas told reporters as he met with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Trump announced last week that his first foreign trip as president will include stops in Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican — the spiritual centres of Islam, Judaism and Catholicism.
The stop in Israel is expected on May 22, though it has not been officially confirmed.
A senior Trump aide last week did not rule out the possibility of a presidential visit to the West Bank, but said that it was likely to be contingent on security and Abbas taking concrete steps toward peace.
Trump has been seeking ways to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, which have been at a standstill since a US-led initiative collapsed in April 2014.
As he hosted Abbas in Washington, Trump confidently predicted that a peace agreement was within grasp, brushing aside the complexities of a decades-old conflict that has bedevilled successive US leaders.
“We will get it done,” Trump said, flaunting what he has described as his deal-making prowess.
“It is something that I think is, frankly, maybe not as difficult as people have thought over the years.”
Abbas said Tuesday that “we told him again of our commitment to a peace based on justice, with international resolutions and the two-state solution as references.”
Trump has however sent mixed signals over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He backed away from the US commitment to the two-state solution — Israel and an independent Palestinian state side-by-side — when he met Netanyahu in February.
He said he would support a single state if it led to peace, delighting Israeli right-wingers who want to see their country annex most of the occupied West Bank.
Trump also vowed during his campaign to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to the disputed city of Jerusalem, a prospect that alarmed Palestinians but which has been put on the back burner for now.
At the same time, he has urged Israel to hold back on settlement building in the West Bank, a longstanding concern of Palestinians and much of the world.
One of Trump’s top advisers, Jason Greenblatt, held wide-ranging talks with both Israelis and Palestinians during a visit in March.
In his comments on Tuesday, the 82-year-old Abbas did not mention whether he would stick to previous Palestinian pre-conditions for talks with Netanyahu.
They have included a halt to Israeli settlement building, the release of prisoners and a deadline for the end of the occupation of the West Bank.
Netanyahu has said he is ready to meet Abbas at any time as long as it is without preconditions, but Palestinians say years of negotiations with the Israelis have not ended the occupation.
The last substantial public meeting between Abbas and Netanyahu is thought to have been in 2010, although there have been unconfirmed reports of secret meetings since then.
Many analysts have little faith that a renewed peace effort can lead to significant progress.
Netanyahu leads what is seen as the most right-wing government in Israeli history, while Abbas is unpopular among Palestinians and may face difficulty in making significant compromises.
June will mark the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War, which led to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
Steinmeier, who also held talks with Netanyahu on Sunday, spoke of Germany’s commitment to the two-state solution.
“From our point of view, there is no other negotiable solution,” the German president said.
“The urgency of the situation, the time that has passed and the changes on the ground make it imperative that the next attempt succeeds.”