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

Vipers snap Vees’ unbeaten run at 13

Vernon hands Penticton first shutout loss of the season, 4-0 at home Saturday

Holiday bears off to new homes

Annual Morning Star December giveaway draws crowd on cold Saturday morning

Legion bell prank hits sour note

Anger erupts after Summerland Legion member removes bell from Peachland Legion

T-Birds high on Hansma

Armstrong high jump star commits to UBC Thunderbirds track team

Vipers down Silverbacks

Vernon goes into Salmon Arm and wins 3-1 in B.C. Hockey League action Friday

VIDEO: B.C. women’s curling teams converge on Hope club

Weekend-long tournament hosts groups from around the province

Team Canada loses 5-2 over the Czech Republic at World Junior A Challenge

Vees’ Tychonick drops in one of Team Canada West’s pair of goals

Site C decision coming Monday morning

Premier John Horgan to announce fate of dam project at B.C. legislature

California couple name daughter after Revelstoke

Revy Elle Atashroo was born on Nov. 27. Her name honours the town her parents loved exploring.

VIDEO: Vancouver Whitecaps acquire star striker Kei Kamara

Kamara has 103 goals and 39 assists in 298 appearances over 11 Major League Soccer seasons

Smartphone pedometers underestimate steps, but valuable health tool: study

UBC researchers found the iPhone underestimated steps by 21.5 per cent

VIDEO: ‘Last Jedi’ premiere kicks off with droids, Daisy Ridley

Latests Star Wars film premiered in style ahead of Dec. 15 theatre debut

UPDATE: Poor ventilation likely cause of carbon monoxide incident at B.C. farm

All 42 patients have been released from hospital, according to Delta Fire

Most Read