US President promises to broker Middle East peace deal

US President Donald Trump with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas at the White House on Wednesday.
US President Donald Trump with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas at the White House on Wednesday. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump has plunged into the other side of Middle East peace-making as he met Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas for the first time, and committed himself to pulling off "the toughest deal" in the world.

Hosting Mr Abbas at the White House on Wednesday, Mr Trump said he would do "whatever is necessary" to bring together the Palestinians and Israelis, who have been warring over the same small patch of land for generations. But he gave no sense of how he would achieve such a goal or exactly what an agreement might look like.

"We want to create peace between Israel and the Palestinians," Mr Trump said. "We will get it done. We will be working so hard to get it done. It's been a long time." Turning to Mr Abbas, he added: "I think there's a very, very good chance, and I think you feel the same way."

Mr Abbas, 82, who was among the negotiators on hand for the historic signing of the Oslo Accords on the White House lawn in 1993, indicated that he did feel optimistic that nearly a quarter-century later, Mr Trump might be the president who finally builds on that initial agreement to forge a final resolution to the conflict.

Praising Mr Trump's "courageous leadership", "wisdom" and "great negotiating ability", he said: "We believe that we can be partners with you to bring about a historic peace."

Mr Abbas implored Mr Trump to understand the Palestinian perspective. "It's time for Israel to end its occupation of our people and of our land," he said. "After 50 years, we are the only remaining people in the world who still live under occupation. We are aspiring and want to achieve our freedom and our dignity and our right to self-determination."

But the scale of that challenge was quickly made clear as Mr Abbas repeated the conditions Palestinians have insisted on for years - the creation of an independent Palestinian state based on the borders that existed before the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital; the right of return for refugees; and freedom for prisoners in Israeli cells.

As a package, that formulation has been a non-starter for Israel, which itself has shown no sign since Mr Trump took office of backing off on any of its own longstanding fixed positions.

Mr Trump has made clear that the details do not matter much to him, and he has abandoned the long- time US commitment to the so-called two-state solution. Hosting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in February, Mr Trump said he would be fine with a two- state or one-state solution as long as both sides were satisfied.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 05, 2017, with the headline 'US President promises to broker Middle East peace deal'. Print Edition | Subscribe