In Bethlehem, Abbas and Trump speak of Mideast peace prospects

Speaking alongside Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem on Tuesday, US President Donald Trump said he wants to achieve a conflict-ending deal between Israel and the Palestinians. “I am committed to trying to achieve a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” Trump told a press conference at the PA headquarters in Bethlehem, without mentioning the possibility of Palestinian statehood. “I intend to do everything I can to help [Abbas and Netanyahu] achieve that goal.”

Before Trump departed for his first foreign trip, H.R. McMaster, the US national security adviser, said the American president will express support for Palestinian “self-determination.”Trump added that he believes an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal “will begin a process of peace all throughout the Middle East.” Abbas, who met with Trump before addressing the press, stated that the Palestinian leadership backs the two-state solution in accordance with international law. “We reaffirm to you our position of accepting the two-state solution along 1967 borders,” Abbas said. “The State of Palestine and its capital east Jerusalem should live side by side with Israel in safety, security, and good neighborliness.” Trump, who only visited the PA headquarters during his trip to Bethlehem, emphasized that making peace requires no tolerance for violence. “Peace can never take root in an environment where violence is tolerated, funded, and even rewarded,” Trump remarked. “We must be resolute in condemning such acts in a single, unified voice.” It is not clear if Trump was making a reference to the Palestine Liberation Organization’s funding of special payments to families of Palestinian prisoners or “martyrs,” many of who were involved in attacks against Israelis. Abbas did not address the issue of the payments in the press conference, but discussed the ongoing mass hunger-strike in Israeli prisons. “I call on the Israeli government to respond affirmatively to these humane and legitimate demands,” Abbas said, alluding to the hunger strikers’ demands, which include ending solitary confinement, increased visitation rights, and improved amenities. The Israel Prison Service has said that its treatment of prisoners meets international standards. Many Palestinians protesting in front of the Nativity Church on Monday called on Abbas to raise the Palestinian hunger-strikers’ demands with Trump. “The prisoners’ demands must be resolved before any discussion of reviving the broader political process can happen,” Fatah Secretary-General in Bethlehem Mohammed Masri remarked. Turning his focus to the Palestinian economy, the American president said that he looks forward to working with Abbas to “unlock the [it’s] potential.” Trump’s Middle East peace envoy Jason Greenblatt has discussed ways to develop the Palestinian economy in almost of all of his meeting with Israeli and Palestinian officials. Abbas and Trump also condemned a suicide bombing that took place in the United Kingdom on Monday, which left 22 dead. Following his visit to Bethlehem, Trump returned to Jerusalem to visit Yad Vashem before departing for Ben-Gurion Airport.

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