Palestinian Officials Are Lowering Expectations for Trump Visit

Resumption of talks with Israel or a three-way meeting with Netanyahu, Abbas and Trump are regarded as unlikely

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, May 3, 2017.
Evan Vucci/AP

The Palestinian Authority is lowering expectations regarding Tuesday’s visit by U.S. President Donald Trump to the West Bank Palestinian city of Bethlehem.

Despite recent reports of a possible three-way meeting involving Trump, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, or of the resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, Abbas’ associates said that if it happens, it would only occur after the Trump administration finalizes its position following consultations with the parties.

A senior Palestinian official said efforts to lower expectations follows an assessment on the Palestinian side that the primary goal of Trump’s Middle East visit is to improve ties with the Sunni Muslim world, which includes Saudi Arabia, the first stop on his tour of the region.

“The decision to be in Israel and then the Vatican leaves the impression that the president has embarked on an interfaith visit and at least we have managed to inject an hour-long visit to Bethlehem, because in our view Bethlehem, and not only the Vatican, has special status for Christianity,” the official said.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict barely merited any mention on Saturday during Trump’s Saudi visit. Abbas left for Saudi Arabia on Saturday to participate in a summit with Trump that the Saudi Foreign Ministry said will be attended by 37 presidents and kings and six prime ministers from the Arab and Muslim world. They include Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi and Jordanian King Abdullah II. “This summit will be a historic event that will open a new page in relations between Arab and Muslim countries on one hand and the United States and the West in general on the other,” said Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir.

For his part, Sissi heaped praise on Trump, saying that the U.S. president’s role in any resolution of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians would be decisive, and Trump’s approach is different. With respect to the Israelis, Sissi said: “They have an opportunity for peace and all of us have the opportunity to live together and to make a better future for our peoples without hate. It would be a serious mistake to waste this opportunity.” The Palestinians and the other Arabs are prepared for peace, he added.