Trump and the Middle East Peace Process

Assessing His Meeting With Abbas

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as they deliver a statement at the White House in Washington, May 2017.  Carlos Barria / REUTERS

The atmospherics surrounding Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump could not have gone better for the Palestinian leader: there were warm words of praise and support, reiterations of Trump’s personal commitment to making peace, and vocal recognition of Abbas’ stance against the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) and the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) security cooperation with Israel. Trump’s criticism of incitement to violence was delivered in clear yet non-confrontational terms, and was overshadowed by the prestige of Abbas’ private meeting with the president and a working lunch attended by the highest officials in the administration. Only recently consigned to the margins of regional priorities, the peace process once again seems high on the White House agenda.

The new momentum is exclusively the result of Trump’s clear personal commitment to the issue, as demonstrated by his repeated reference to the issue in numerous media interviews, his delegation of the process to his son-in-law Jared Kushner and U.S. Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt, and his raising it in conversations with various world leaders. Yet the Abbas-Trump meeting only represents the final scene of the opening act of the new U.S.-led drive for Middle East peace, preceded by White House meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and Jordanian King Abdullah. Although a full strategy is yet to emerge, the readouts of these meetings indicate the broad contours of the immediate next steps in Washington’s approach. There will be two parallel tracks of U.S. engagement with each side of the Israel-Palestine conflict: pushing Israel to hold back on settlement activity, and pushing the PA to create a unified voice against incitement. This will be coupled with an effort to bring key Arab States—Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other US allies—into a regional process that would create, as Trump called it, a “bigger canvas” for reaching peace. Eventually,

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