Trump: Israelis and Palestinians Can Forge Peace With Tough Compromises

A rare opportunity exists to achieve peace with the Arab world as well, the U.S. president says, adding that Iran will not obtain nuclear weapons on his watch

Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu after the U.S. president's speech at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, May 23, 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

U.S. President Donald Trump said Tuesday the Israelis and Palestinians have an opportunity to achieve a peace agreement, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will have to make tough compromises.

At the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, Trump delivered a warm and very friendly speech emphasizing that as long as he is president Iran will not obtain nuclear weapons.

Trump spoke shortly before leaving Israel for Vatican City. He arrived at the Israel Museum after a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust remembrance center and a meeting with Abbas in Bethlehem.

Trump, who since entering the White House four months ago has repeatedly said he aims to advance a historic peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians, devoted a key part of his address to that issue. He spoke about his meetings with the leaders of Arab countries, above all Saudi King Salman, at the Riyadh summit Sunday. He said there was also a rare opportunity to advance peace between Israel and Arab countries.

“As I have repeatedly said, I am personally committed to helping Israelis and Palestinians achieve a peace agreement, and I had a meeting this morning with President Abbas and can tell you that the Palestinians are ready to reach for peace,” he said. “I know you’ve heard it before. I am telling you that’s what I do. They are ready to reach for peace.”

At the museum, Trump spoke before about 200 people including Netanyahu, government ministers and Knesset members from both the governing coalition and opposition. Also invited were several of Trump’s friends, associates and contributors headed by Netanyahu patron Sheldon Adelson, the U.S. casino magnate and owner of the Israel Hayom daily.

Trump praised Netanyahu, whom he called “my good friend Benjamin.” According to Trump, Netanyahu too is interested in achieving peace.

“Making peace, however, will not be easy,” Trump said. “We all know that. Both sides will face tough decisions. But with determination, compromise, and the belief that peace is possible, Israelis and Palestinians can make a deal.”

Trump began by thanking Netanyahu for hosting him and expressed his solidarity with Britain after the suicide bombing in Manchester on Monday night.

Admiring the Jewish people

He also discussed the connection between the Jews and Israel, saying that “the ties of the Jewish people to this Holy Land are ancient and eternal. They date back thousands of years, including the reign of King David.”

As he put it, “I call upon all people – Jews, Christians, Muslims,– to draw inspiration from this ancient city, and to give all children the freedom and hope and dignity.”

Trump spoke about his visit to the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Yad Vashem.

“Down through the ages, the Jewish people have suffered persecution, oppression and even those who have sought their destruction,” he said. “But, through it all, they have endured – and they have thrived. Israel is a testament to the unbreakable spirit of the Jewish people. I stand in awe of the accomplishments of the Jewish people, and I make this promise to you: My administration will always stand with Israel.”

He said the conflict would not last forever. “I am personally committed to helping Israelis and Palestinians reach that mutual commitment comprehensive peace agreement,” he said, adding that both the Palestinians and Netanyahu want peace.

“Making peace will not be easy. We all know that. Both sides will face tough decisions. But with determination, compromise on both sides, and the belief that peace is possible, Israelis and Palestinians can make a deal.  Change must come from within,” he said.

“No mother or father wants their children to grow up in a world where terrorists roam free, schoolchildren are murdered, and their loved ones are taken. No one should teach young boys and girls to hate and kill. And no civilized nation can tolerate the massacre of innocents.”

As Trump put it, “We must build a coalition of partners who share the aim of stamping out extremism and violence – and providing our children a peaceful and hopeful future. And, on behalf of the United States, we pledge to stand by you and defend our shared values so that together we can defeat terrorism and create safety for all of God’s children.”

He added: “Israelis have experienced firsthand the hatred and terror of radical violence. Israelis are murdered by terrorists wielding knives and bombs. Hamas and Hezbollah launch rockets into Israeli communities where schoolchildren have to be trained to hear the sirens and run to bomb shelters. ISIS targets Jewish neighborhoods, synagogues and storefronts.

“And Iran’s leaders routinely call for Israel’s destruction. Not with Donald J. Trump, believe me. The United States is firmly committed to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and halting their support of terrorists and militias. So we are telling you right now that Iran will not have nuclear weapons.” 

Netanyahu on terrorism

Before Trump, Netanyahu spoke briefly. “As you said this morning, Mr. President, funding and rewarding terrorism must end. Standing next to you, President Abbas condemned the horrific attack in Manchester. Well, I hope this heralds a real change, because if the attacker had been Palestinian and the victims had been Israeli children, the suicide bomber’s family would have received a stipend from the Palestinian Authority. That’s Palestinian law. That law must be changed,” Netanyahu said.

“I hope that President Abbas heeds the principles, the clear, strong, moral and practical principles that you enunciated today, President Trump: Stop rewarding terrorists, stop glorifying murderers,” Netanyahu added.

“I believe that this is the first and the crucial step towards the road towards a genuine peace that Israel seeks and that I believe that – together with you – we can achieve. President Trump, working with you, I believe we can advance a durable peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, as well as the Palestinians, because of the common danger that the Arab world and Israel face from Iran, and because of the leadership that you bring to this process.”

In his speech, Trump did not present a detailed plan for promoting the peace process. But later this week U.S. special envoy Jason Greenblatt is scheduled to return to Jerusalem to continue talks with the Israelis. And on June 7 the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, will come to Israel for a three-day visit.

The prime minister’s people consider Haley one of Israel’s top supporters in the Trump administration. Only a week ago Haley expressed support for moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

On the other hand, on February 16, a day after the meeting between Netanyahu and Trump in Washington, Haley said in a speech at the UN Security Council that U.S. policy was still based on support for a two-state solution.