U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday that President Donald Trump applied heavy pressure and was very assertive in his talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Tillerson said Trump was “forceful” and made it clear to them that they would have to compromise to move ahead in the peace process.
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Tillerson, who attended Trump’s meetings in Israel and is with him in Europe, was speaking at a briefing with American correspondents in Rome. Trump told the two leaders that if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is solved, there will start being “a lot of the peace throughout the Middle East,” Tillerson said.
“The president was very forceful in his encouragement to both of them to be serious about approaching these discussions in the future and recognize they have to compromise, everyone has to compromise,” Tillerson told reporters accompanying Trump on his trip in Europe.
Trump, Tillerson said, “put a lot of pressure” on Netanyahu and Abbas “that it’s time to get to the [negotiations] table and he has made the point several times.”
An American official remarked during a briefing to reporters on Air Force 1 during Trump’s flight from Israel to Rome that the Trump administration was interested in setting “forth a common set of principles that everyone wants to abide by” in its attempt to restart the peace process.
The official did not detail what common principles the administration is considering with regards to the peace process. It is unclear whether he means technical principles like a rigid timetable for talks or principles touching on substantive issues like negotiating on the basis of the 1967 lines with land swaps. The previous U.S. secretary of state, John Kerry, tried in 2013 and 2014 to reach a framework agreement that would include principles for resolving the conflict’s core issues.
He stressed that the main principle the American government wishes to ensure is discretion and the maintenance of private talks between various representatives.
“The first step (in the renewed diplomatic initiative) there is to bring relationships that are warm and strong privately and bring them more public and also set forth a common set of principles that everyone wants to abide by,” said the official.
“And hopefully the more we can build trust the more we can have open dialogues around these things in a way that has not happened before,” said the official. “I think that gives us a better chance of having success in this issue.”
According to him, the administration doesn’t expect to reach an agreement tomorrow morning between Israel and the Palestinians – an agreement that no one has managed to achieve for decades. He added that the goal of Trump’s trip to the Middle East was mainly to listen and learn the positions of the sides and hear what the other countries in the region have to say, as well as to “try to create a lot of momentum and optimism around the prospect for peace.”
The White House said Tuesday that Abbas told Trump during their meeting that he was “ready to begin negotiating immediately” with Israel.
“President Trump and President Abbas agreed to continue their discussions on the issue of payments to Palestinian prisoners and the need to improve the Palestinian economy,” the White House stated.
According to the White House statement on the Trump-Abbas meeting, “President Trump and President Abbas reaffirmed their commitment to reach for a genuine and lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis.”
On Wednesday, associates of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas confirmed that he is prepared to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu anytime. They said Abbas has said as much in recent months and during his talks with U.S. President Donald Trump in Bethlehem this week.
A senior Palestinian official familiar with the details of the discussion told Haaretz that such a meeting does not constitute the commencement of official Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. He noted that any negotiations must principles and a framework that the sides have agreed upon. “A three-way meeting does not mean that there are agreements and that negotiations have begun,” he said. “We want to make our position perfectly clear to the administration at any opportunity. Such a meeting would be an opportunity. The question is what Netanyahu is prepared to do, and we know that beyond his declarations he won’t yield anything.”
Officials from the PA president’s office reiterated that the main impression they got from the talks with the American government, including the meeting with Trump this week, is that there is still no clear framework or principles that can lead to restart the peace process.
“Remember that the president was here for the first time, and that everything is new to him,” a senior official said. “The talk with him was mostly about his intentions to foster peace.” He noted that Trump and Abbas spoke largely about principles.
“He specifically mentioned the two-state solution, the 1967 borders, East Jerusalem and the Arab Peace Initiative,” the senior official said. “The question is which way are the Americans headed, which we are supposed to learn soon.”
Despite their statements, the Palestinian leadership could not hide its disappointment regarding Trump’s speech at the Israel Museum, in which he adopted in great part Israeli policy and did not once mention any of the Palestinian positions, neither the two-state solution nor the right to self-determination. At the same time, they noted that they have decided in principle to go along with every American effort to renew the peace process, leading to a two-state solution.
Trump’s visit did not generate much enthusiasm on the Palestinian street. Hamas repeatedly attacked Trump’s speech. Hamas spokesman Fauzi Barhum commented that Trump’s statements prove that he cannot be counted on regarding the Palestinian people’s rights. Meanwhile, calls are increasing for the Palestinian Authority and Hamas to end their split in favor of the higher Palestinian national interest.
“Given the situation, and based on what we saw and heard in Jerusalem and Riyadh, the Palestinian national interest requires first and foremost internal reconciliation and not to perpetuate the split that first and foremost serves Israel,” Dr. Mustafa Barghouti told Radio Al-Shams in Nazareth.
At their joint press conference in Bethlehem on Tuesday, Abbas said, “We’ve declared our commitment to a peaceful solution between us and the Israelis.”
Abbas added that his summit with Trump at the White House earlier this month encouraged Palestinians about the possibility of peace and the establishment of a Palestinian state.
“I am committed to cooperate with you in order to make peace between us and the Israelis and to cooperate in the war on terror,” Abbas said.
Trump, in turn, pledged to work with Abbas on other matters “such as unlocking the potential of the Palestinian economy.