Trump Ends Silence With Palestinians, Opening a Path - The New York Times

Peter Baker and Ian Fisher

New York Times

11th March 2017

WASHINGTON — President Trump spoke with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority on Friday for the first time since taking office and invited him to visit the White House, opening a new avenue of diplomacy as he develops his own peace initiative for the Middle East. Mr. Trump, who presented himself last year as Israel’s greatest champion, had refused to deal directly with Palestinian officials until now.

But after a White House meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, and multiple conversations with Arab leaders from the region, Mr. Trump has embarked on what he promises to be a sustained effort to break a impasse and resolve the conflict. The president has assigned Jared Kushner, his and senior adviser, and Jason Greenblatt, his top negotiator, to explore ways of bringing the two sides together in tandem with other players in the region.

Mr. Greenblatt plans to follow up Friday’s telephone call between Mr. Trump and Mr.

Abbas with a visit next week to the region. He will meet with Israeli officials in Jerusalem and Mr. Abbas in Ramallah, the headquarters for the Palestinian Authority that operates in the occupied West Bank.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, an adviser and spokesman for Mr. Abbas, said the two presidents spoke for about 20 minutes in English and called it “a very good conversation. ” “He invited our president to the White House and it seems like he’s ready to deal with my president to achieve a real peace,” Mr.

Rudeineh said. “The president seemed very serious about a peace deal, and a man who is willing to do something on the ground and is willing to do something to end the suffering in this region. ” In a statement describing the call, the White House said, “The president emphasized his personal belief that peace is possible and that the time has come to make a deal.

” Mr. Abbas’s advisers initially expressed worry that Mr. Trump did not reach out sooner, and that he seemed deeply tilted toward Israel.

For his ambassador to Israel, he nominated David M. Friedman, a lawyer and fervent supporter of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. During Mr.

Netanyahu’s visit last month, Mr. Trump cast aside two decades of American support for a solution, meaning the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, saying it did not matter to him what form an agreement took as long as both sides concurred. But Mr.

Trump has also moderated some of his positions since taking office. After Mr. Netanyahu announced thousands of new homes in the West Bank, Mr.

Trump asked him to delay new construction, saying it would not help peace efforts. And while he promised last year to quickly move the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem despite the longstanding dispute over a city that both sides claim as a capital, he has not acted on that pledge, making clear he was rethinking it. In recent weeks, Palestinian leaders have expressed tentative optimism that Mr.

Trump, however unorthodox in his approach, may in fact pursue the deal he says he wants in the Middle East. There have been contacts between intelligence organizations, including a visit to Mr. Abbas by the C.

I. A. director, Mike Pompeo.

“I suspect the phone call came as something of a relief for Abbas, who has been waiting anxiously for seven weeks for the administration to make political contact with the Palestinian leadership,” said Khaled Elgindy, a former adviser to the Palestinian leadership in negotiations with Israel and now a fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. ”Trump’s approach has not been terribly balanced, or even all that coherent, thus far,” he added, “but the administration seems to be returning to the standard talking points of the peace process — at least in relative terms. Whether any of this is enough to salvage the peace process or even a solution is another matter.

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