Abbas says talks with Trump positive, if short on specifics

Abbas says talks with Trump positive, if short on specifics

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territory — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said his first meeting with President Donald Trump left him hopeful, but he did not appear to have come away with any achievements that move the needle on Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Abbas said he believes the Trump administration can play an important role as a mediator, and the U.S. president indeed restated his ambition to facilitate the deal that has eluded negotiators for over two decades.

But he also said outsiders cannot impose terms on the parties — which some see as a coded warning that there are limits to the U.S. willingness to invest political capital. Some peace proponents on both sides have concluded that only massive international, regional or American pressure or enticements might break the impasse.

Abbas also does not appear to have secured U.S. backing for pressure on Israel to end settlement construction in the lands the Palestinians claim for a future state — a major goal for the embattled Palestinian leader.

Still, the very fact that the meeting was held was an improvement for Abbas over the early weeks of the Trump administration, when the Palestinians felt ignored and frozen out. And Trump does appear to be stalling on his stated intention to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which the Palestinians fervently oppose.

Trump struck an optimistic note Wednesday, saying he believes an Israeli-Palestinian deal can be reached. He did not explain what type of solution he envisions.

“What is needed is to bring the two parties together, to bring them closer and then to facilitate things between them,” he told reporters late Wednesday, after his White House meeting.

The Palestinians want to set up a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war. Abbas reiterated the demand as he stood next to Trump at the White House.

However, there have been no serious negotiations since gaps widened with the 2009 election of Benjamin Netanyahu as Israel’s prime minister. Netanyahu rejects the 1967 frontier as a baseline for border talks and rules out a partition of Jerusalem where Palestinians hope to establish a capital. The Netanyahu government, like those before it, have expanded settlements on war-won lands, despite U.S. appeals to curb construction.

Despite the lack of specifics, Abbas described his meeting with Trump as positive and said that “we build hopes on it.”

“So far, we didn’t talk about a mechanism, but the contacts between us and the Americans began and will continue,” he said.

Abbas said he is ready to meet with Netanyahu, and suggested the Israeli leader is avoiding such talks.

“We had planned to meet in Moscow, but he didn’t show up,” Abbas said, referring to Russian efforts several months ago to set up such a meeting.

Netanyahu has said he is willing to meet with Abbas. In the past, Abbas balked at the idea of such a summit, saying it would be pointless without general agreement on the framework of negotiations and a significant curb in settlement construction. Abbas did not explain his apparent shift in position.

On Thursday, Netanyahu said he looks forward to discussing with Trump the “best ways to advance peace.” Trump is reportedly visiting Israel at the end of the month, although no official announcement has been made.

He said Abbas’s comments Wednesday that Palestinians are cultivating a culture of peace “are unfortunately not true,” pointing to Palestinian schools named after militants who killed Israelis. “But I hope that it’s possible to achieve a change and to pursue a genuine peace. This is something Israel is always ready for, Netanyahu said.

U.S. officials said ahead of the meeting that Trump would press Abbas to end payments to families of Palestinians imprisoned in Israeli jails. Three Republican senators urged a halt to such payments in a letter to Trump that reflected widespread opinion in Congress.

A senior U.S. official said Tuesday that the issue of payments had been raised in preliminary talks with the Palestinians in Washington. Abbas has said the issue was not raised in his talks with Trump. However, officials close to the talks said it would be addressed in future meetings.

Abbas’ positive portrayal of the meeting with Trump may not be enough for a skeptical public at home. Many Palestinians have become disillusioned with Abbas’ strategy, after two decades of intermittent U.S.-led negotiations ended in failure while Israeli settlements keep expanding.

In the West Bank, the main focus appears to be a hunger strike by hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, now in its 18th day.

At the time of the Abbas-Trump meeting, several thousand Palestinians attended a solidarity rally for the prisoners, with speakers calling for a new campaign of civil disobedience against Israeli rule.

The hunger strike is led by imprisoned uprising leader Marwan Barghouti, widely seen as the most popular choice to succeed the 82-year-old Abbas one day. Barghouti, in prison since 2002, is serving five life terms after an Israeli court convicted him of directing attacks that killed five people during a Palestinian uprising against Israel.

The turnout at the rally “reflects the people’s support for the prisoners at a time when the Palestinian leadership failed in everything,” said Sharif Suleiman, a 32-year-old project manager who attended the gathering. “They failed in negotiations, in building institutions and in reforms.”

Abbas also faces fierce opposition from his main political rival, the Islamic militant group Hamas, which seized Gaza from him in a 2007 takeover. Hamas has dismissed Abbas’ strategy of negotiations as a waste of time and said he does not represent the Palestinians.

After a decade of failed reconciliation attempts, Abbas recently adopted a tougher stance toward Hamas, saying he would use financial pressure to force the militants to cede ground.

His West Bank-based autonomy government announced this week that it will stop paying for electricity Israel sends to power-starved Gaza — about $11 million a month.

Hamas has said it would not bow to pressure from Abbas.

Karin Laub, The Associated Press

Just Posted

Friends, family remember Dan Sealey, stepson of Minister of Agriculture, in private gathering

Lana Popham confirmed Sealey died of an accidental drug overdose earlier this month at age 23

High school graduation rates on the rise in Greater Victoria

High school completion up from 71 to 86.8 per cent over 10 years

Mommy’s Inside Voice: A little piece of you

Mommy’s Inside Voice is a biweekly column by Amie Jay, a local mother of three

Pacific Centre Family Services Association a winning design in Colwood

Victoria Real Estate Board winner a welcoming sight

Victoria curling foursome looks to defend provincial title

2019 BC Junior Curling Championships held in Vernon from Dec. 27, 2018 to Jan. 1, 2019

Unique technology gives children with special needs more independent play

UVic’s CanAssist refined seven prototypes aided by $1.5M government contribution

Greater Victoria holiday craft fair roundup for Nov. 16 to 18

Check off all of the items on your shopping list at these great events

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Nov. 14

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

High-end B.C. house prices dropping, but no relief at lower levels

But experts say home ownership remains out of reach for many for middle- and lower-income families

Worker killed in collision at B.C. coal mine

Vehicle collision occurred at approximately 10:45 a.m. this morning

B.C. asking for tips on ‘dirty money’ in horse racing, real estate, luxury cars

Action follows a Peter German report on money laundering in B.C. casinos

Canadian dead more than a week after plane crash in Guyana: Global Affairs

Global Affairs said it couldn’t provide further details on the identity of the Canadian citizen

Children between 6 and 9 eligible for $1,200 RESP grant from province

BC Ministry of Education is reminding residents to apply before the deadline

Privacy concerns over credit card use for legal online pot purchases

Worries follow privacy breaches at some Canadian cannabis retailers

Most Read