BY , MAY 3, 2017 – 2:22 PM
An Israeli-Palestinian peace deal has eluded every president in modern history. U.S. President Donald Trump wants to break that pattern — but if the daylight between his meetings with Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas indicates anything, it’s going to be an uphill battle.
On Wednesday, Trump hosted Abbas at the White House, and pledged to move forward. “We will get it done,” he said. “We will be working so hard to get it done.”
Trump has put some of his closest advisors on the issue, including his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his long-time legal advisor and confidante, Jason Greenblatt, who is now the White House’s chief Middle East negotiator.
And less than a month into office and before nearly every other key foreign policy posting, Trump tapped David Friedman, a controversial hardliner on Israel, to be the ambassador in Tel Aviv.
Over the course of his campaign, Trump hinted at dropping the traditional two-state solution past presidents have supported (he also mulled moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the disputed holy city claimed by both Palestinians and Israelis). In his joint press conference with Netanyahu back in February, Trump, when asked whether he favored a one- or two-state solution, said he is “happy with the one that both parties like,” a departure from over a decade of previous U.S. policy. “I can live with either one,” Trump said.
But on Wednesday, Abbas made one thing clear — he is not equally content with a one- or two-state solution. For Abbas and the Palestinians, there is only one solution. “Our strategic option is the realization of a two-state solution,” he said.
And despite Trump’s cadre of Israel hardliners, he struck a cordial tone with Abbas in their Wednesday press conference, and Abbas reciprocated. The Palestinian leader said a peace agreement could be reached under “the courageous leadership of Donald Trump.”
During the press conference, Trump spoke of wanting to work with Palestinians to fight terrorism, foster private sector development and rule of law, and, of course, to establish a peace deal. His remarks weren’t entirely uncritical, however. “Palestinian leaders need to speak in a unified voice against incitement to violence and hate,” he said.
In between thanks and compliments for Trump, Abbas reiterated the importance of establishing a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders. Only a two-state solution, Abbas said, would allow Palestinians to focus on fighting terrorism and enable Arab states to establish normal relations with Israel.
In his closing remarks, Trump said he looked to “prove wrong” those who say negotiating a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians is the toughest deal.
Unmentioned in the joint remarks was the thorny subject of Jewish settlements on land Palestinians claim as their own. The Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics said the number of Jewish settlers in disputed territory grew from 198,300 in 2000 to 385,900 in 2015. Friedman is a staunch supporter of Israeli settlements.
Also hanging in the air but unstated is the reality that Abbas might not be around for long enough to conclude a peace deal. Abbas’s support at home is dwindling, and a poll last month found nearly two-thirds of Palestinians wanted the 81-year old leader of the Palestinian Authority to step down.
This week, the Islamic militant group Hamas, arch-rival to Abbas’s Fatah party, unveiled a new and more moderated political charter. Experts say Hamas is angling to scoop up more mainstream political support while Abbas’s wanes.