Trump to Ask Abbas: Commit to U.S. Initiative on Rebooting Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process

'The president personally believes that peace is possible, and that the time has come to make that deal,' a senior White House official says one day before the two leaders meet

U.S. President speaks at the White House, May 2, 2017.
AFP / Mandel Ngan

U.S. President Donald Trump will ask Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday to cooperate with the initiative he plans to launch in the coming months to revive the Middle East peace process that has been frozen since April 2014.

“The president will seek President Abbas’ commitment to work with us as we try to move peace efforts forward,” a senior White House official told Haaretz.

>> Get all updates on Israel, Trump and the Palestinians: Download our free App, and Subscribe >>

Abbas arrived Tuesday in Washington and will remain for three days. During their meeting Wednesday, Trump and Abbas are expected to make statements to the media, though it is not yet clear whether Trump will use the event to express for the first time since entering the White House support for establishing a Palestinian state.

Abbas is also expected to meet with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, senators, congressmen and representatives of Jewish organizations.

The Palestinians have expressed optimism on the eve of the meeting. Abbas’ spokesman, Nabil Abu-Rudeineh, said Abbas would stress the need for advancing a process based on a two-state solution and the Arab Peace Initiative, the 2002 proposal that was ratified once again at the Arab League summit in late March.

Abbas traveled to Washington after holding coordination meetings with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi in Cairo and Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Amman.

During the first three months of his presidency, Trump has met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Abdullah, Sissi, the deputy crown prince of Saudi Arabia and other Arab leaders. A senior White House official noted that after Trump had spoken to Abbas by telephone, he wanted to meet with him in person to examine how they could work together to push for peace.

According to the White House official, advancing the Middle East peace process and achieving a peace agreement that would end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a top priority for Trump. According to the official, it’s precisely for this reason that Trump has given the issue to two people especially close to him – his son-in-law Jared Kushner and his envoy for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt.

“The president personally believes that peace is possible, and that the time has come to make that deal,” the official said. “The president has noted that such a deal would not only give Israelis and Palestinians the peace and security they deserve, but that it would also reverberate positively throughout the region and the world.”

The official added that Trump was determined to achieve real progress, but this would require the resumption of direct talks between the Israelis and Palestinians.

“Any peace settlement ultimately has to be the product of direct negotiations between the parties, and both sides must agree,” the official said. “We can help and support progress towards a peace deal – and the president is determined to do so – but we can’t impose a solution on the Israelis and Palestinians. Nor can one side impose an agreement on the other.”

Netanyahu and his aides will be closely following the Trump-Abbas meeting. In recent days Netanyahu has conveyed messages through the media to the White House, Congress and the American people against the Palestinian Authority's transfers of funds to families of terrorists and Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Israeli diplomats are likely conveying similar messages to the White House.

In an interview with Fox News a week and a half ago, Netanyahu demanded that the Palestinians stop these payments if they wished to show that they really wanted peace. On Monday, during a ceremony on Israeli Memorial Day, Netanyahu also addressed the issue.

“President Abbas, who is going this week to meet with President Trump, how can you speak of peace with Israel and at the same time fund murderers who spill the blood of innocent Israelis at every turn?” Netanyahu said. “You want to take a real step for peace that we want? Stop the payments to murderers. Cancel the law that requires payments to these murderers. Fund peace, not murder.”

Netanyahu was speaking against the backdrop of a bill in Congress demanding that the PA stop the payments to terrorists’ families and prisoners. Veteran U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, who initiated the legislation, demands that all U.S. funding to the PA be halted until it ceases to pay salaries to prisoners convicted of terror activity.

The bill has been dubbed the Taylor Force Act, after the former U.S. Army officer who was killed in a terror attack in Jaffa last year. His family lives in South Carolina, the state Graham represents.

Graham and two other senior Republican senators – Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton – wrote to Trump on Tuesday demanding that he raise the issue of prisoner payments with Abbas. The three said the United States must not view the PA as a partner for peace as long as it transfers millions of dollars annually to fund and encourage terror.