Israelis, Palestinans ready 'to reach for peace'

U.S. President Donald Trump traveled in a high-security convoy to Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Tuesday to discuss Middle East peace with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

He added: "I was deeply encouraged by my conversations with Muslim world leaders in Saudi Arabia, including King Salman, who I spoke to at great length".

"I had a meeting this morning with [President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud] Abbas and can tell you that the Palestinians are ready to reach for peace", Mr Trump said in Jerusalem, before turning to gesture towards Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel.

But even as Trump points to a behind the scenes rapprochement between Israel and Arab countries in the Middle East and with his advisers insisting the new USA administration is approaching the conflict differently from those that preceded it, the political conditions between Israelis and Palestinians appear largely unchanged. He also faces difficulties at home, where he is struggling to contain a scandal after firing James Comey as Federal Bureau of Investigation director two weeks ago. Prime Minister Netanyahu did the introductions of his family to President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump. He did not way in Israeli settlements, the status of Jerusalem or even whether the USA would continue to insist on a two-state solution giving the Palestinians sovereign territory. Both sides will face tough decisions.

During the press conference, the president conspicuously omitted any mention of the two-state solution or a Palestinian state. Abbas's Fatah party is at sharp odds with the Islamist group Hamas, which is in power in Gaza, leaving no unified Palestinian position on peace.

Still, when Air Force One departed the Holy Land for Rome, Trump left Israelis and Palestinians with the impression that his visit leaned slightly to the Israeli camp. "So you had another story wrong", said Trump.

He did not specifically mention other demands such as the so-called right of return for Palestinian refugees, but made a general reference to "resolving all the entire final status issues based on worldwide law" and in accordance with the Arab Peace Initiative.

One of the long-standing regional proposals is a Saudi peace initiative that was first put forward in 2002 and has been re-endorsed several times since.

He said an agreement with Israel could "begin a process of peace all throughout the Middle East". It also urges a "just settlement" of the Palestinian refugee problem.

But hardliners in Israel could find in Trump's concluding speech plenty to work with. Israeli leaders view the city as entirely Israeli, while Palestinians claim its eastern half as theirs. British officials have said they are treating the blast as an act of terrorism.

While hosting Abbas at the White House in March, Trump boldly stated that achieving peace is "something that I think is, frankly, maybe not as hard as people have thought over the years".

  • Zachary Reyes