Trump Will Ask Netanyahu, Abbas to Take Trust-building Steps: Curb Settlements, Stop Incitement

White House officials say the U.S. administration is in the very early stages of an effort to revive the peace process and seeks to proceed cautiously

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a bilateral meeting with Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, Sunday, May 21, 2017
Evan Vucci/AP

U.S. President Donald Trump will ask the Israeli and Palestinian leaders for confidence-building measures to create the right atmosphere for renewing peace talks, a senior White House official told Haaretz Saturday.

Trump will meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Monday and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem on Tuesday.

The president will remind Netanyahu that construction in the settlements must be restrained and steps must be taken to improve the Palestinian economy, the official said. Trump will remind Abbas that the Palestinian Authority must halt all incitement and violence against Israel.

“The president has made a general statement regarding his view on settlements and he hopes the Israeli government takes it into account,” the official said. “He was also pretty direct with President Abbas regarding what they need to do regarding incitement and the payments to families of terrorists. He has been quite clear about that and he will be clear about that during the visit.”

On Sunday the security cabinet will meet to discuss Trump’s visit the discussion will focus on the process Trump envisions to revive the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians and between Israel and the Arab states.

A timetable of Trump's visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority

A senior Israeli official said the ministers are expected to approve economic measures “intended to alleviate the living conditions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”

Among the proposals are operating the Allenby crossing for 24 hours a day to let Palestinians travel from the West Bank to Jordan and back, upgrading the West Bank crossings to facilitate the passage of Palestinian laborers, expanding Palestinian industrial areas in Tarkumia near Hebron and Jalma near Jenin, and setting steps to improve conditions for Gaza merchants.

It is still not clear whether Netanyahu will propose that the cabinet approve construction plans for the Palestinians in Area C, where Israel maintains full civil and security control.

Ministers from Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi party and a number from Likud are expected to object these moves.

Senior White House officials said Trump’s visit was not intended to jump-start peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians or to launch a new peace initiative. They said the U.S. administration was in the very early stages of an effort to restart the peace process and sought to proceed cautiously.

“The president thinks peace is possible and that a new approach can work, but he knows we are in a very early stage,” an official said. “This is why we still don’t think it is time to get the leaders together or have a trilateral meeting. It’s just too soon.”

Trump, who wants to use approval from the Arab states to relaunch the peace process, will arrive in Israel on a direct flight from Riyadh an unprecedented step.

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process was a key issue that Trump and Saudi King Salman discussed on Saturday. According to Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, Salman told Trump he was convinced of the American’s ability to make progress toward a peace agreement. He said Saudi Arabia was ready to help the United States bring about peace between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as between Israel and the Arab states.

On Sunday Trump is expected to take part in a summit in Riyadh with dozens of Muslim and Arab leaders and make a speech about his vision for U.S. ties with the Muslim world.

A senior White House official said the speech was not expected to refer significantly to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process but would focus on the Arab leaders’ need to take responsibility and take serious action against radical Muslims.

Trump is due to land in Israel around noon on Monday. For Israel, the more significant speech will be the one Trump makes at the Israel Museum on Tuesday. Senior White House officials said Trump wouldn’t present a vision for the peace process but would focus on the alliance between Israel and the United States.

They said the speech wouldn’t include any declaration that changes American policy on Jerusalem or discusses moving the U.S. Embassy to the capital.

“The message in the speech will be of friendship and solidarity,” an official said. “A message of genuine recognition of Israel’s history, how it was born and what it went through and how it is prospering today. Don’t expect a vision about peace in this speech. It is not why the president is coming and it is not the approach of this administration to dictate terms.”

Senior White House officials said Trump would focus during his visit on rehabilitating Israel-U.S. relations after what they described as eight years of a “frayed relationship” during Barack Obama’s presidency.

“We are off to a good start and we want to show the Israeli people that this alliance is going back on a good track,” an official said.