Updated at 7:44 a.m. | President Donald Trump continued to press for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal during a stop in Bethlehem, but comments by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas showed just how difficult such a pact will be.
As Trump said Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu have assured him they want to “work towards that goal in good faith,” the Palestinian leader laid down a key marker for potential talks that his Israeli counterparts have rejected in the past.
“We reassert to you our positions of accepting the two-state solution along the borders of 1967, the state of Palestine with its capital as East Jerusalem living alongside the state of Israel in peace and security and good neighborhood,” Abbas said, “as well as resolving all the entire final status issues based on international law and internationally legitimate solutions and side agreements.”
The status of Jerusalem would be one of the largest disagreements negotiators would have to iron out. Israeli leaders view the city as entirely Israeli, while Palestinians claim its eastern half as theirs.
About an hour later, Netanyahu put down his own stake.
He criticized Abbas and Palestinian leaders for, as he put it, rewarding terrorist attacks on Israel. He used Monday night's attack in Manchester, England, as an example, saying had the attacker there been Palestinian and the victims Israeli, his family "would have received a stipend from the Palestinian Authority." Ending that policy would have to be part of any terms to which he agreed, Netanyahu said.
Trump has made an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal a major goal of his time in office. On Monday, he seemed to backtrack a bit from previous statements that reaching such a pact will not be as difficult as some say.
“I’ve heard it’s one of the toughest deals of all,” Trump said. “But I have a feeling we’re going to get there eventually. ... I hope.”
Abbas cast peace with Israel as a “key to peace and stability in the world.” He stated his “commitment to cooperate with you in order to make peace and forge a historic peace deal,” and as partners in fighting terrorism.
To that end, Trump made clear he has a sweeping vision of what an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord could unlock: “I also firmly believe that if Israel and the Palestinians can make peace, it will begin a process of peace all throughout the Middle East, and that would be an amazing accomplishment.”
The U.S. president, in the midst of a five-country swing, his first since taking office, described himself as “truly hopeful that America can help Israel and the Palestinians forge peace and bring new hope to the region and its people.”
Despite the optimistic words, there were signs that finally inking a long term peace deal will be difficult.
For instance, Trump went from the meeting with Abbas in Bethlehem directly to a wreath-laying ceremony at Yad Vashem (The World Holocaust Remembrance Center) with Netanyahu. The Israeli leader, during brief remarks, referenced some of Trump’s statements during his meeting with Abbas, But he did not mention a peace pact with Palestinian leaders.
On Monday, when Netanyahu spoke about possible negotiations with Abbas, he did so in broad terms. And, in his typical fashion, he appeared intent on making few promises.
For instance, the Israeli leader on Monday complemented Trump for his tough stance on Iran during his Middle East swing, saying it would “help reconciliation between israel and the Palestinians.” About potential talks, Netanyahu would only say they are “pregnant with possibilities.”
A day later came another telling sign of the deep resentment the two sides feel for one another.
Journalists traveling with Trump were instructed to remove all press credentials that featured the Israeli flag as they entered the Presidential Palace in Bethlehem for the Trump-Abbas meeting.