Expectations low for Mahmoud Abbas meeting with Trump in Washington

Published May 2nd, 2017 - 08:00 GMT
US President Donald Trump and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. (AFP/File)
US President Donald Trump and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. (AFP/File)

Four days after crossing the 100-days mark, US President Donald Trump is set to welcome Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to Washington on Wednesday to discuss the Middle East peace process.

It's impossible to know, like many of Trump's manoeuvres, whether the timing of the Abbas meeting, some two-a-half months after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the same trip, signals where the US president's priorities lie - or a simple lack of awareness.

It certainly signals a break from the previous administration, when former US president Barack Obama called Abbas and then-Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert one day after entering the White House in 2009.

Palestinians, for their part, aren't getting their hopes up, but they feel that since Trump has said that he wants to broker a deal on the conflict, then they should at least tell him what the Palestinians expect before he presents his initiative based only on Israeli views.

"The main opportunity from the meeting is that it will be the first chance for the Palestinians to present their narrative to a new US administration that has been very familiar with the narrative of only one side, and that has totally ignored the Palestinian narrative," said Ghassan Khatib, professor at Birzeit University near Ramallah.

Trump raised eyebrows during Netanyahu's visit when he broke with long-standing US policy advocating for a two-state solution by saying he would accept any peace settlement. "I'm looking at two state, and one state, and I like the one that both parties like," he said. "I'm very happy with the one both parties like. I can live with either."

"The US seems to be in the process of developing a Mideast policy and therefore the meeting will be an opportunity for the Palestinians to contribute to this new policy," said Khatib, who's also a pollster.

According to a March poll, only 9 per cent of Palestinians think that having Trump in the White House will lead to a renewal of the peace process, the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research found.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Monday that Trump's ultimate goal is to establish peace in the region and that would also be at the core of the discussions that Trump will have with Abbas.

He also said the relationship with Abbas is one Trump would "continue to work on and build, with the ultimate goal that ... there's peace in that region between Israel and the Palestinian Authority."

Abbas is facing political challenges in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip that have grown only worse since the collapse of the last round of US-led peace talks in 2014 placed the issue on the back burner. 

With that in mind, the US would do well to leverage the current status boost Abbas has enjoyed thanks to Trump's interest by working with him to set "down markers by which Abbas can demonstrate his willingness and ability to make difficult decisions," writes Ghaith al-Omari, a fellow at The Washington Institute. "The prospect of final-status Palestinian-Israeli negotiations seems premature."

A trip to Israel reportedly planned by Trump for late May also likely precludes any big announcements on peace talks during Abbas' visit. 

The timing of Trump's rumoured trip would, however, coincide with the expiration of his predecessor's six-month waiver on relocating the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, something he has frequently said he would do. Whether Abbas can successfully convince Trump of the dangers of such rushed policy will likely be seen only afterwards.

Maher Abukhater and Miranda Lee Murray

© 2022 dpa GmbH

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