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Netanyahu, Abbas, and Trump Agree on Need for Peace, But Not Much Else

Before meeting Pope Francis, the president admits peace could indeed be difficult to achieve.

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President Donald Trump’s trip to Israel was presented as a test of his ability to make the ultimate deal, but it’s serving to underscoring just how difficult it is to strike a peace accord between Israelis and Palestinians.

The president has been trying to calibrate his expectations for peace. In his White House meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in early May, Trump said he looked to “prove wrong” those who said peace between Israelis and Palestinians is the toughest deal to broker. On Monday, in his joint remarks with Netanyahu, Trump said, “I’ve heard it’s one of the toughest deals of all, but I have a feeling that we’re going to get there eventually, I hope” (“Trump admits peace is tough,” the following pool report read).

The problem isn’t that Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu don’t want peace, or agree that other Arab leaders could play a role. “I would like to reiterate, Your Excellency, Mr. President, our commitment to cooperate with you in order to make peace and forge a historic peace deal with the Israelis,” Abbas told Trump after their meeting on Tuesday. “And we are keen to keep the door open to dialogue with our Israeli neighbors from all walks of life in order to boost confidence and create a genuine peace opportunity.”

But the reality remains that both sides are stressing different things. Trump and Netanyahu never talked about a two-state solution to the problem, but Abbas did. And he also spoke of Israeli settlements and occupation and Palestinian prisoners.

Trump, for his part, seemed to allude to the Palestinian Authority’s payments to families of those prisoners when he said, “Peace can never take root in an environment where violence is tolerated, funded and even rewarded.” Netanyahu also criticized this practice in a statement made after Abbas’s joint remarks with Trump on Tuesday, seemingly calling Abbas a hypocrite for offering his condolences to those who were hurt or lost loved ones in Monday evening’s terrorist attacks in Manchester — Netanyahu said that had the Manchester victims been Israeli children, the Palestinian Authority would have paid the attacker’s family.

Solving the Mideast peace riddle is the task of Trump’s son-in-law and jack-of-all-trades troubleshooter, Jared Kushner. But whatever blueprint he may have for peace, Reuters notes, he’s keeping it to himself. And seasoned diplomats with years of experience wrestling with the peace process are skeptical that a band of novices will be able to untie that Gordian knot anytime soon.

As Trump heads to the European portion of his first overseas trip, things aren’t about to get much easier. On Tuesday, after visiting the Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, and signing the guest book in his inimitable fashion, Trump flew to Rome, where he is due to meet Pope Francis on Wednesday. The two traded barbs during the U.S. election — Francis criticized Trump’s plan to build a wall, which he described as not Christian, while Trump said it was disgraceful for the Pope to say so — but both appear eager to put that behind them: Francis has promised not to judge Trump before hearing him out.

Photo credit: Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is the U.S. editor of the New Statesman and the author of The Influence of Soros, published July 2020. Twitter: @emilyctamkin