During a press conference with US President Donald Trump on Wednesday in Washington, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he trusted the American head of state’s “courageous stewardship” and “wisdom” to achieve a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians, while Trump hailed the security coordination between Abbas’ Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel, saying that they “work together beautifully.”
Despite Palestinian officials’ expressed optimism regarding a relationship with the new American president, Trump has come forward as a vocal supporter of Israel, made the moving of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem a centerpiece in his presidential campaign promises, and was quick to express his opposition to a UN Security Council resolution that harshly condemned illegal settlements.
However, Trump has repeatedly expressed his desire to bring about a peace deal between Israel and the PA, while documents released by Foreign Policy magazine late last month showed that Trump’s 2018 budget would see a 4.5 percent increase in US foreign aid to the occupied West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip.
The meeting between the Palestinian and US leader comes a day after US National Security Adviser HR McMaster praised Trump’s “disruptive” style of governance, Israeli news outlet Ynet reported.
“The president is not a super-patient man,” McMaster said. “Some people have described him as disruptive. They’re right. And this is good; good because we can no longer afford to invest in policies that do not advance the interests and values of the United States and our allies.”
‘We will get it done’
During the press conference, which took place ahead of a much anticipated meeting between the two leaders, Trump reiterated his stated goal to bring about a peace agreement.
“Mr. President, you signed your name to the first Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, you remember that well, right?” Trump asked Abbas at the press conference, in reference to the 1993 Oslo Accords. “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.”
“We will get it done. We will be working so hard to get it done,” Trump emphasized later. “I will do whatever is necessary to facilitate the agreement, to mediate, to arbitrate, anything they’d like to do, but I would love to be a mediator, or an arbitrator, or a facilitator, and we will get this done.”
However, Trump also repeated his belief that any agreement between Palestinian and Israeli officials “cannot be imposed by the United States or by any other nation.”
Trump made no mention of any specific points that could be included in such a peace deal, and at no point during the press conference spoke of either a one- or two-state solution — maintaining his elusiveness on the matter months after a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which he said he could “live with either” a one- or two-state solution, in a significant departure from the US’ publicly held position in favor of a two-state solution to the conflict.
Abbas to Trump: ‘With you, we have hope’
Abbas, meanwhile, reiterated his support of a two-state solution along 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital, arguing that a “comprehensive and just peace” between Israelis and Palestinians would have positive repercussions across the Middle East.
“It’s about time for Israel to end its occupation of our people and of our land after 50 years,” Abbas said, referring only to the Palestinian territory occupied by Israel in 1967. “We aspire to and want to obtain 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.”
Abbas emphatically expressed his appreciation of Trump’s interest in obtaining an Israeli-Palestinian deal.
“We believe that we are capable and able to be successful in our efforts, because Mr. President, you have the determination and you have the desire to see it come to fruition and to see this succeed,” Abbas told Trump in Arabic.
“I believe that we are capable under your leadership, your courageous stewardship, and your wisdom, as well as with your great negotiation skills, with the grace of God, and with all of your efforts, of being true partners to you to bring about a historic peace treaty.”
Abbas went on to briefly address Trump in English, telling the US leader: “Now, Mr. President, with you we have hope.”
Abbas alluded to Israel’s illegal settlement expansion, by saying that “no unilateral steps should be taken ahead of an agreement and discussions on the issues.”
Abbas also mentioned in passing the importance of resolving the issues of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, hundreds of whom have been staging a hunger strike in past weeks; and of Palestinian refugees whose ancestors fled what is now recognized as the state of Israel, although he did not specify how their right of return could be implemented as part of a two-state solution.
In comments on Tuesday prior to the press conference with Trump, Abbas had claimed that a one-state solution would only lead Israeli authorities to apply two different systems of governance between Palestinians and Jewish Israelis, increasing “racism and discrimination.”
While the PA and members of the international community have rested the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the discontinuation of illegal Israeli settlements and the establishment of a two-state solution, a growing number of Palestinian activists have criticized the two-state solution as unsustainable and unlikely to bring durable peace given the existing political context, proposing instead a binational state with equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians.
During his Tuesday statements, Abbas said that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — which has been ongoing for some 70 years — would not be solved “in a day or two.”
“I am not going to sell you illusions, but I will say that we are going to build our homeland brick by brick, step by step, until we create the state of Palestine,” Abbas said.
Trump hails ‘unbelievably’ good security coordination
During Wednesday’s press conference, Trump candidly brought up his reaction to learning more about the PA’s contested and controversial security coordination with Israel since he came to office in January.
“They get along unbelievably well. I’ve had meetings, and at these meetings I was actually very impressed and somewhat surprised by how well they get along,” Trump said. “They work together beautifully.”
The Fatah-dominated PA and Israeli forces have worked in coordination since the 1993 Oslo Accords, which planned for a gradual power transfer of the occupied West Bank from Israeli forces to the PA over the course of five years. More than 20 years on, however, any transfer of power has yet to take place.
Critics have called security coordination a “revolving door policy” funneling Palestinians from PA jails into Israeli prisons through politically motivated arrests, while the Hamas movement and other Palestinian groups have repeatedly accused the PA of aligning with Israel’s goals in the occupied West Bank.
While the PA has repeatedly threatened to put an end to the security coordination with Israel over the years, a report released last year by Israeli newspaper Haaretz claimed that Palestinian security forces had carried out 40 percent of detentions of “suspected terrorists” in the occupied West Bank in previous months.
During the press conference, Trump called on Palestinian leaders to speak in a “unified voice” against “incitement to violence” against Israelis.
“There is such hatred, but hopefully there won’t be such hatred for very long,” Trump said. “All children of God must be taught to value and respect human life and condemn all of those who target the innocent.”
Israeli officials, including Netanyahu, have routinely accused Palestinian authorities of sowing incitement against Israel among Palestinian youth, while affirming that Israel, which has mandatory military service for most of its citizens, teaches its younger generations peace.
Palestinians, meanwhile, have pointed to the frustration and despair brought on by Israel’s decades-long military occupation of the Palestinian territory and the absence of a political horizon as being the main factors leading Palestinians to commit violent acts.
“I affirm to you that we are raising our youth, our children, our grandchildren in a culture of peace, and that we are endeavoring to bring about security, freedom, and peace for our children to live like other children in the world, alongside Israeli children in peace, freedom and security,” Abbas said.