‘A Mediator or an Arbitrator or a Facilitator’: Trump’s Role in the Mideast Peace Process
President Trump welcomes Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House on May 3, 2017.
told the Palestinian Authority’s president that he envisions the U.S. being “a mediator or an arbitrator or a facilitator” between Israelis and Palestinians as Mahmoud Abbas marked his first visit to Washington in three years.
“I want to support you in being the Palestinian leader who signs his name to the final and most important peace agreement that brings safety, security, and prosperity to both peoples and to the region,” Trump said without mentioning the two-state solution that has been a longtime bedrock of U.S. policy in the region.
Trump said that while he wanted to help Israel and the Palestinians to come to an agreement, a deal couldn’t be imposed on either party. An agreement between the two sides, which Trump has dubbed “the toughest deal in the world,” has long thwarted past U.S. administrations.
“I believe we are capable under your leadership, courageous stewardship, and wisdom … to be true partners to bring about a historic peace treaty,” Abbas said at a joint news conference with Trump. The Palestinian leader also expressed his desire to pursue a two-state solution to the conflict, noting “it’s about time for Israel to end its occupation of our people and of our land after 50 years.”
Abbas’s visit comes two months after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made an official visit to Washington, and one month after Jordanian King Abdullah visited the White House. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was raised during both meetings, and Trump said during his joint press conference with Netanyahu that he would not insist on a two-state solution, noting he would instead support “the one that both parties like.” Trump later appeared to walk back on the statement in an interview with The New York Times, in which he clarified he “basically” supports a two-states solution.
Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO) newly appointed ambassador to Washington, told Israeli newspaper Haaretz Sunday that Trump and Abbas had a “very positive conversation” leading up to their meeting, adding “there is one thing on the agenda, and that thing is the historic opportunity for peace presented by President Trump.”
Despite both sides’ apparent optimism ahead of the visit, the Palestinians’s relationship with the Trump administration has not been without conflict. Trump’s pledge to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the eastern part of which Palestinians claim as their capital, was met with condemnation by Palestinian officials who warned the move would lead to “chaos, lawlessness and extremism.” (The move has been promised by other presidents, too, and Trump like his predecessors appears to have backed away from the move for now.) Trump’s appointment of David Friedman, a hard-liner on the Middle East issue, as the American ambassador to Israel was also met with Palestinian condemnation.
“[Friedman] is a supporter of the settler movement and he has contributed to the Beit El settlement, which is within walking distance from my house,” Hanan Ashrawi, a PLO executive committee member, told me in an interview in March. “All of his language about the Palestinian-Israeli issue is in total support of Israeli aggression, intransigence, expansion, and continued occupation.”