President Donald Trump spoke on the phone with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for the first time on Friday, and invited him to the White House, both American and Palestinian spokesmen confirmed.
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The call was the first contact between the two leaders, coming after complaints by Palestinian officials that they have failed to establish contact with the Trump administration. According to a senior Palestinian official, the conversation was positive and lasted 10 minutes. The official added that Trump told Abbas that he knows he is committed to peace.
"President Donald Trump invited President Abbas to visit the White House very soon," spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah said after the phone call.
According to the Abu Rdainah, Trump wants to discuss with Abbas ways to resume the peace process. The U.S. president stressed his commitment to a process that will lead to true peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Abbas, on his part, emphasized his commitment to peace as a strategic stance, in order to bring about a Palestinian state side-by-side with the State of Israel.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer in Washington later confirmed Trump had invited Abbas to a meeting at the White House very soon.
The White House said that in their conversation Trump told Abbas that he believes a peace deal between Israel and Palestinians must be negotiated directly by the two sides.
The Palestinian ambassador to Washington, Maen Ariekat, said following the call: "We hope that this conversation will signal the start of a constructive and fruitful engagement between the two sides. The Palestinian side stands ready to work with the United States to advance the cause of a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East that would lead to an end to the Israeli military occupation and the creation of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state that lives side-by-side with Israel in peace and security.”
At a Feb. 15 news conference during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit, Trump was ambivalent about a two-state solution, the mainstay of U.S. policy in the region for the past two decades.
"I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like ... I can live with either one," Trump said, causing consternation acrosss the Arab world and in many European capitals.
The White House has since been more cautious on the issue, and there has been less talk of moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a promise Trump made during the campaign but a move that would provoke anger across the Muslim world.
Trump has expressed interest a number of times since his election victory in achieving what he calls "the ultimate deal" - peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The issue came up in his meeting with Netanyahu last month in Washington, during which Trump told the Israeli Prime Minister that "both sides will have to make concessions" in order to reach peace.
The conversation with Abbas came ahead of an expected visit by Jason Greenblatt, one of Trump's top diplomatic advisers, to the region. Abbas was one of the last Arab leaders to speak with Trump on the phone, after the president has already spoken with the leaders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other countries in the region.
The only Arab leader so far who has personally met Trump since the election, however, is Jordan's King Abdullah. Immediately after his conversation with Abbas, Trump will meet at the White House with Secertary of State Rex Tillerson for lunch.
On Thursday, Abbas met in Ramallah with a delegation representing the Union for Reform Judaism. The meeting took place at his office, and was attended by his senior adviser Husam Zomlot, who was recently appointed to be the next Palestinian ambassador to the United States. Abbas told the 30 members of the delegation thay “the continued Israeli settlement activities are illegal and undermine the two-state solution.” He also said he was interested in improving and deepening the Palestinian Authority's dialogue with the Jewish-American community.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said after the meeting that the members of the delegation "did not agree" with everything they heard from Abbas, but were glad to hold the meeting. “I was pleased to hear that Palestinian officials have been in contact with the Trump administration, which had confirmed to President Abbas that the U.S. policy remains in support of the two-state solution," Jacobs added.
“We pressed the president about the Palestinian Authority’s responsibility to stem anti-Israeli incitement. He acknowledged it was a real challenge, just as it is in Israel, and called for reviving the anti-incitement trilateral committee led by the U.S.,” Rabbi Jacobs said. The members of the delegation have been in Israel since earlier this week, and have also met with Israeli Preisdent Reuven Rivlin and other officials in Jerusalem. They are scheduled to meet Netanyahu on Sunday.