Trump to Meet Netanyahu and Abbas on Sidelines of UN to Advance Peace Talks

Senior Palestinian officials say Kushner and Greenblatt didn’t give Abbas a clear timetable for the peace initiative, but said it might happen before the end of the year

US President Donald Trump (L) and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands after delivering a speech at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on May 23, 2017.
MANDEL NGAN/AFP

U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in two weeks to discuss his planned peace initiative, senior Israeli and Palestinian officials told Haaretz.

These would be Trump’s first meetings with Netanyahu and Abbas since his visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority in May.

A senior White House official said Trump plans to meet with a long list of world leaders on a wide range of issues during the General Assembly session in New York, and a complete list will be published once his schedule is finalized. He added that talks with Netanyahu and Abbas about Trump’s peace initiative will take place before the General Assembly and will continue afterwards.

Senior Israeli and Palestinian officials, who asked to remain anonymous, said discussions are now being held about the exact dates of the meetings, which will apparently take place between September 17 and 19. The meeting with Netanyahu is also expected to address a long list of other diplomatic and security issues, including the Iranian nuclear agreement and arrangements in Syria. But this will be the first time since Trump’s visit to Israel in May that he has had an opportunity to speak directly with Netanyahu and Abbas about his ideas for a peace initiative.

Trump is still determined to try to achieve the “ultimate deal” between Israel and the Palestinians. A few weeks ago, he told his senior aides on the issue – his son-in-law Jared Kushner, special envoy to the peace process Jason Greenblatt and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman – that achieving an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is still one of his top foreign policy priorities.

Kushner and Greenblatt, who recently visited Jerusalem, Ramallah and several Arab capitals, returned to Washington encouraged, especially because they managed to convince Abbas to stay with the peace process and give them additional time to finalize their plans, instead of “breaking the rules” through a new unilateral move against Israel at the General Assembly.

Senior Palestinian officials said Trump’s advisors told Abbas that the U.S. president wants to meet with him during the General Assembly, and this was one of the things that convinced Abbas to accede to the American request to give the White House a chance to try to make progress. Though Kushner and Greenblatt didn’t give Abbas a clear timetable for unveiling the peace initiative, they said it might happen before the end of the year, the officials added.

“The Americans said they need more time to draft something and asked Abu Mazen not to make international moves like joining additional UN agencies or launching proceedings at the International Criminal Court in The Hague,” one said, referring to Abbas by his nickname. “Abu Mazen acceded to this request in the hope that during the coming months, the administration really will present a plan or a position that could constitute a real basis for restarting the diplomatic process.”

One person surprised by U.S. officials’ optimism was UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who met with Greenblatt during his own visit to Israel for a briefing on the administration’s efforts to achieve a breakthrough in the peace process. Several Israelis who met with Guterres, as well as UN diplomats, said his impression was that the White House hopes to finish drafting its peace plan by the end of the year.

But the Americans’ optimism was bolstered by the great support they received from the Arab leaders they met with in Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Amman and Cairo before coming to Jerusalem and Ramallah.

Kushner and Greenblatt persuaded both King Abdullah of Jordan and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia to call Abbas and encourage him to give the American move a chance. Both Arab leaders told Abbas they got the impression that Trump’s initiative was serious, that his intentions were good, and that he’s committed to advancing the process. They also told Abbas he should give the White House enough time and space to draft an initiative that could succeed.

“The regional visits were important because they [the Arabs] were all very optimistic about what the president might be able to do on the peace process,” a senior White House official said. “The Arab leaders are willing to roll up their sleeves and try to help us achieve something historic. Both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas see this as an opportunity. We were pleased by the meetings.”

The senior official added that aside from the two weeks devoted to finding a solution to a crisis over the Temple Mount the erupted in July, the White House is very happy with the pace of progress so far.

“Are things happening according to plan? President Trump only met Abbas and Netanyahu in May,” he said. “That's four months ago. We have done a lot. We not only have the Israelis and the Palestinians engaged in important conversations, we also have the Arabs engaged in a serious, positive and optimistic way.”

But despite Abbas’ decision to give the American move another chance, Ramallah is still very frustrated by the fact that the White House has yet to voice support for the two-state solution, opting instead to maintain ambiguity on this issue. The Palestinians are also troubled that the U.S. administration hasn’t publicly criticized construction in the settlements.

Senior Palestinian officials said that instead of resuming his international campaign during the UN General Assembly, Abbas will make do with delivering a forceful, scathing speech. In it, they said, he will likely ask the world to take concrete action to save the two-state solution and hint that the PA won’t be able to survive if there is no diplomatic horizon and Israel’s settlement policy continues.