Abbas Tells Kushner He's Willing to Work With Trump to Reach Peace Deal

'Nothing is impossible if you put in an honest effort,' Palestinian president tells top Trump aide ahead of Ramallah meeting

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets with White House senior advisor Jared Kushner in the West Bank City of Ramallah June 21, 2017. Thaer Ghanaim/PPO/Handout via REUTERS
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets with White House senior advisor Jared Kushner in the West Bank City of Ramallah June 21, 2017. Thaer Ghanaim/PPO/Handout via REUTERS HANDOUT/REUTERS

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Thursday at the beginning of his meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, that despite the obstacles, he was willing to work with the U.S. administration to reach a "peace deal."

Kushner stressed at the beginning of their meeting that Trump was very optimistic about the chances of reaching a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians, saying the president is striving to create a better future for both people.

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After a round of talks in Arab countries, Kushner met Thursday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Abbas in Ramallah. In contrast to the skepticism sounded in the past two weeks, the two leaders made an effort, at least publically, to voice willingness to cooperate with American efforts to renew peace talks.

A picture taken on August 24, 2017 in the West Bank city of Ramallah shows a Palestinian demonstrator holding a cartoon depicting Senior White House Advisor Jared Kushner, during a protest against the arrival of a US delegation headed by Kushner to meet with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.
ABBAS MOMANI/AFP

"I'm very pleased to see you again Jared," Netanyahu said to Kushner in front of the cameras ahead of their meeting.  "We have a lot of things to talk about: How to advance peace, stability and security in our region and I think all of them are within our reach. So I'm happy to see you and the effort you are leading on behalf of the administration. "

After their meeting, which took place in Tel Aviv and lasted three and a half hours, part of which were a one-on-one meeting between the two, Netanyahu's office said in a statement the sides spoke about ways to advance peace and regional security. "Talks were effective and significant," Netanyahu's office said, adding "the prime minister expects talks to continue in recent weeks."

A few hours after his meeting with Netanyahu, Kushner and his delegation headed to Ramallah for meetings with the Palestinian president.

A few hours before their meeting, Abbas received a phone call from a number of Arab leaders, including Jordan's King Abdullah II, Saudi's crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir. A statement published by Abbas's office regarding the phone calls said that they dealt with the updates from the talks the leaders had with Kushner and on coordinating their respective positions.

"We very much appreciate the efforts of President Trump, who announced from the beginning that he will work to reach a historic peace deal and has repeated this more than once during the meetings we held in Washington, Riyadh and Bethlehem," Abbas said before his meeting with Kushner.

"I want to stress that the American delegations is working for peace and we will work with them to reach what Trump calls a peace deal. We know things are hard and complicated, but nothing is impossible if you put in an honest effort," he said.

Kushner's visit comes at a time when both Israel and the Palestinians’ positions have become significantly more rigid and expectations regarding the peace process are low.

Several Palestinian officials said off-the-record in recent days that the American peace team was biased in Israel’s favor and was even reciting Netanyahu’s talking points. Abbas didn’t use these words, but at the beginning of the week he criticized the Trump administration and said at a meeting with a Meretz delegation that he didn’t understand the White House’s conduct on the peace process.

Abbas is conditioning his cooperation with the U.S. peace initiative on the Americans publicly stating their commitment to the two-state solution and their objection to continued construction in the settlements. He said at the meeting with Meretz that Kushner and Greenblatt have already expressed, in talks with him, support for those two points, but have not said as much to Netanyahu.

Palestinian officials said that if Kushner’s visit fails to yield positive results from their point of view, they would consider resuming the international campaign for statehood in UN institutions. This would mean pushing for a declaration at the UN General Assembly in support of accepting Palestine as a full UN member, and increasing efforts to sue Israel in the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

In recent weeks, on the background of the police investigations against him, Netanyahu voiced especially hawkish stances on the Palestinian issue. At a rally organized for him some two weeks ago, Netanyahu expressed his objection to the establishment of a Palestinian state and to any withdrawal from the West Bank.