By Philip Rucker, Karen DeYoung and William Booth,
BETHLEHEM, West Bank — President Trump traveled to this West Bank city Tuesday to say he would do “everything I can” to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, even as he confronted seemingly irreconcilable bottom line demands on both sides.
President Trump brought his hope for peace efforts to the Palestinians on Tuesday, saying he would do “everything I can” to help broker talks with Israelis but also confronted Arab demands for a state that includes part of Jerusalem.
Speaking in the aftermath of a deadly bombing attack in Britain, Trump made a brief mention of the “losers” who perpetrate such actions. “Our society can have no tolerance for this continuation of bloodshed,” he said. “We cannot stand a moment longer for the slaughter of innocent people.”
Trump spoke beside Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, after the two held a private meeting to discuss the now-stalled peace process and Trump’s vision for broad counterterrorism cooperation among the United States, Israel and the Muslim world.
Trump met Monday in Israel with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after spending the weekend with Muslim and Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia.
Abbas said he welcomed Trump’s efforts, which had “given all the nations across the region so much hope and optimism of the possibility of making a dream come true.”
“Our commitment is to cooperate with you in order to make peace and forge a historic peace deal with the Israelis,” Abbas added.
But while Trump spoke in generalities about the goal, Abbas laid out the specifics of Palestinian demands — which all have been supported by the Arabs and rejected by Israel through decades of unsuccessful peace negotiations shepherded by American presidents.
“We reassert to you our positions of a two-state solution along the borders of 1967, a state of Palestine with its capital in East Jerusalem, living alongside of Israel,” he said, referring to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank following a war against three Arab armies.
Israel claims Jerusalem as its capital, but Palestinians insist that the city’s mostly Arab eastern part be the capital of any future state. During the presidential campaign, Trump pledged to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but the plan has been shelved at least temporarily.
Abbas said that he had also drawn Trump’s attention to more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners who have been on a hunger strike for more than a month, led by Marwan Barghouthi, whom supporters call the Palestinian Nelson Mandela.
Barghouthi was convicted in Israeli courts of masterminding the murder of Israeli civilians and sentenced to multiple life terms. The prisoners are an assortment of those convicted of serious terrorist crimes, as well as those picked up in ongoing West Bank skirmishes with Palestinian youth.
The hunger strikers seek more family visits, access to telephones, medical care, the freedom to study, and cessation of isolation as a punishment. Abbas delivered to Trump a letter from prisoner families that quoted Barghouti, “the last day of the occupation will be the first day of peace.” A few blocks from where Trump and Abbas spoke, a rally was being held in support of the hunger strike.
Pro-Israeli lawmakers in the United States have objected to American aid to the Palestinians, claiming the money is used to make payments to the families of prisoners — who are considered “freedom fighters” among many Palestinians. Trump did not mention the aid or the payments in his public remarks.
Abbas also spoke of Palestinian insistence that all “final status issues” be resolved “based on international law” and United Nations resolutions, as well as the Arab Peace Initiative first offered more than a decade ago. It promised Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for a Palestinian state.
“Our Palestinian people’s attainment of their freedom and independence is key to peace and stability in the world,” Abbas said.
Abbas referred to Trump’s “historic” visit Monday to “occupied East Jerusalem,” where Trump visited some of the sites holiest to Jews and Christians. In a statement with Trump last night, Netanyahu hailed the same visit, while speaking of a “united Jerusalem” as Israel’s capital.
Previous U.S. presidents have declined to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem as it would provide a powerful symbolic rejection of Palestinian — and Arab — aspirations for their own capital inside a separate state.
In 1995, Congress passed a law mandating the move, but successive presidents have issued waivers every six months declining to take action based on national security needs. Trump has until June 1 to decide whether to continue the practice.
Escorted by Israeli police and helicopters, Trump and his delegation sped down the Hebron Road and found themselves, just minutes from their Jerusalem hotel, at the gates of Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The closeness of Bethlehem — the physical proximity between Israel and the Palestinian territory — surprised most first-time visitors in the entourage.
Trump and the convoy passed through the 26-foot-tall concrete wall with watch towers that is Israel’s separation barrier, and past “Checkpoint 300,” where thousands of Palestinian workers cross into Israel each morning to reach their jobs on Israeli construction sites.
Trump has cited the Israeli barrier as an example of the kind of wall he wants to build between the United States and Mexico, but many Palestinians view it as a symbol of oppression.
Bethlehem is lively and crowded, home to Palestinian Muslims and Christians, and the Church of the Nativity, the Byzantine-era sacred site built over the grotto where the faithful believe Jesus was born.
The city is also surrounded by hilltop Jewish settlements on three sides, built both in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, communities that most of the world considers illegal, though Israel disputes this.
“The president assures me he’s ready to work toward [peace] in good faith,” Trump said of Abbas, whom he hosted in the White House earlier this month, “and Prime Minister Netanyahu has promised the same.”
In Saudi Arabia, Trump said he had called on Arab leaders “to join in a partnership to drive terror from their midst once and for all.” He described the Riyadh meeting as “epic” and “deeply productive,” saying “people have said there really has never been anything even close in history.”
Abbas, who also attended the Riyadh meeting, said that Trump had brought “broad horizons, prospects to recover our economy [and] continue building our nations based on the rule of law and non-violence … building bridges instead of walls inside our land.”
Ending in English after delivering the bulk of his remarks in Arabic, Abbas said he hoped his guest “will go in history, the President Donald Trump, who was the American president who achieved peace between the Palestinians and Israelis.”
DeYoung and Booth reported from Jerusalem.