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US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during their meeting at the presidential headquarters in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, May 23, 2017.(Photo by: REUTERS)
In Bethlehem, Abbas and Trump speak of Mideast peace prospects
By ADAM RASGON
05/23/2017
“I am committed to trying to achieve a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians," says US president.
Speaking alongside Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem on Tuesday, US President Donald Trump again stressed his desire to achieve a conflict- ending deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

“I am committed to trying to achieve a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” Trump told a press conference at PA headquarters in Bethlehem, without mentioning the possibility of Palestinian statehood. “I intend to do everything I can to help achieve that goal.”

Before Trump departed for his first foreign trip as president, H.R. McMaster, his national security adviser, said the American leader would express support for Palestinian “self-determination.”

US President Donald Trump (L) and Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas (2nd L) review the honour guard at the presidential palace in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on May 23, 2017 (THOMAS COEX/AFP)

Trump added that he believes an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal “will begin a process of peace all throughout the Middle East.”

Abbas, who met with Trump before the two addressed the press, stated that the Palestinian leadership backs the two-state solution in accordance with international law.

“We reaffirm to you our position of accepting the twostate solution along 1967 borders,” Abbas said. “The state of Palestine and its capital, east Jerusalem, should live side by side with Israel in safety, security and good neighborliness.”

Trump, who during his trip to Bethlehem only visited the PA headquarters, emphasized that making peace requires denouncing violence.

“Peace can never take root in an environment where violence is tolerated, funded and even rewarded,” Trump remarked. “We must be resolute in condemning such acts in a single, unified voice.”

It is not clear if Trump was making a reference to the Palestine Liberation Organization’s funding of special payments to families of Palestinian prisoners or “martyrs,” many of whom were involved in attacks against Israelis.

Abbas did not address the issue of the payments in the press conference, but discussed the ongoing mass hunger strike in Israeli prisons.

“I call on the Israeli government to respond affirmatively to these humane and legitimate demands,” Abbas said.

The hunger-strikers demands include ending solitary confinement, increased visitation rights and improved amenities.

The Israel Prisons Service has said its treatment of prisoners meets international standards.

Palestinians protesting in front of the Church of the Nativity on Monday called on Abbas to raise the Palestinian hunger-strikers’ demands with Trump.

 Palestinians protest in solidarity with hunger-striking prisoners in front of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, May 23, 2017. (Eliyahu Kamisher)

“The prisoners’ demands must be resolved before any discussion of reviving the broader political process can happen,” Fatah Secretary- General in Bethlehem Muhammad Masri said.

Turning his focus to financial matters, the American president said he looks forward to working with Abbas to “unlock the potential of the Palestinian economy,” which he said “is having a very rough time.”

Trump’s Middle East peace envoy Jason Greenblatt discussed ways to develop the Palestinian economy in most of his meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials.

Following his visit to Bethlehem, Trump participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at Yad Vashem and gave a speech at the Israel Museum, before taking off for the Vatican on the next leg of his trip.
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