Abbas, Trump, Netanyahu.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump does not plan on hosting a trilateral summit with Israel and the Palestinian Authority during his trip to Jerusalem next week, senior Trump administration officials told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday.
Trump will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and, barring security complications, will also meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem during his first international trip as president.
But local reports suggesting Trump will host a summit with Abbas and Netanyahu are incorrect. The Trump administration is not planning such a meeting, the Post
has learned, and those involved in his Middle East portfolio believe that direct negotiations at this stage may be premature.
Israelis and Palestinians hold out great expectations for Trump’s arrival, hopeful the president will articulate a path forward in their stalled peace process. But his aides are offering them caution: “We still consider this in very early stages,” one official said.
A trilateral meeting is remotely possible given the president’s penchant for acting “on the fly,” the aide acknowledged. But several officials intimately involved in planning the trip would be surprised if such a summit took place.
“Let’s not get carried away,” a second senior administration official said, in response to reports that such a meeting has already been planned. “People are taking Abbas’s comments about [being] willing to meet too far.”
Palestinian officials first proposed a meeting between Trump and Abbas in Bethlehem to the White House several months ago, highlighting the city’s significance as the identified birthplace of Jesus. Trump’s whole trip is religiously themed, centering on stops in the spiritual capitals of Riyadh, Jerusalem and Rome.
While the administration is unlikely to host negotiations during this particular visit, Trump will nevertheless make several personal appeals for the resumption of direct talks. He will try to strike an optimistic tone, questioning old assumptions that peace in this troubled region is elusive, if not impossible to achieve.
“He likes to make good deals, for his own country as well as for its friends and allies,” one senior aide said. “He would never push for a deal that would not further Israel’s security. And we just hope the Israelis know that.”
Officials expressed concern that anticipation surrounding the visit has been warped by local press reports, and are encouraging Israeli and Palestinian officials to “slow down” as they preview Trump’s plans to the media. The administration is also weighing to what extent Trump should publicly comment on the conflict at all: A speech is not guaranteed, although at minimum the White House will offer descriptions of his meetings with Netanyahu and Abbas.
PA leaders worry that Trump will call for an end to its “martyr” compensation scheme, which provides the families of convicted murderers and terrorists in Israel with monthly stipends. Israel considers the program immoral and inflammatory while the Palestinians argue that several of those whose families are receiving stipends have been imprisoned on political charges.
Trump raised the matter with Abbas in their May 3 meeting at the White House, and plans to do so again in Bethlehem. One official described the compensation scheme as a “major impediment” to peace and a matter of grave concern to the entire Trump administration.
Republicans on Capitol Hill are pushing a bill, titled the Taylor Force Act, that would cut off funding to the PA should it fail to shut down the program. The White House has not endorsed the legislation, and over the weekend officials declined to comment on the congressional effort. The president’s goal, they said, is to build private trust between his administration and the PA – not to threaten them out of the gate with an aid severance.
On Friday, the president’s national security adviser, H. R. McMaster, said that Trump “will express his desire for dignity and self-determination for the Palestinians,” as well as his “unshakable” commitment to the Jewish state. Trump is not expected to endorse a two-state solution during his visit, and will instead stick to language he used in his original meeting with Netanyahu at the White House in February.
“I am looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like,” the president said at the time. “I can live with either one.”
Trump departs Washington for his first stop on the trip, Saudi Arabia, on May 19.
“The president believes peace is possible – he thinks that he’s bringing a different approach than other administrations have tried,” one senior official said. “He thinks that the common threat from Iran may have changed the dynamic in the Arab world. There’s a lot of reason to think the environment has changed.”
“Shame on us if we don’t try,” the official added.