(Link to Friends of Bethlehem on Facebook)
Donald Trump has met with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank as the US president seeks to restart peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians.
“I am truly hopeful that America can help Israel and the Palestinians forge peace and bring new hope the region and its people,” Trump said at a joint press conference with Abbas on Tuesday.
“If Israelis and the Palestinians can make peace, it will begin a process of peace throughout the Middle East,” he said without elaborating on any plans to restart talks.
Abbas said Palestinians “are committed to working with [Trump] to reach a historic peace deal between us and Israel,” adding that the “main problem is with the occupation and settlements”.
Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel-Hamid, reporting from Bethlehem, said Trump’s remarks regarding the link between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and stability in the rest of the region was significant, adding, however, that many Palestinians will be disappointed by what Trump did not say.
“Trump didn’t speak of their right to self-determination. he didn’t speak of the two state solution … and they will probably be disappointed that Trump did not say what his plans were or his vision was,” Abdel-Hamid said.
The short visit in Bethlehem came a day after Trump met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as Palestinians held a general strike in support of hundreds of hunger-striking prisoners held in Israeli jails.
Meetings between Trump and Netanyahu concluded on Monday with Trump promising to help broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, but gave little indication of how he could revive negotiations that collapsed in 2014.
“It’s not easy. I have heard it is one of the toughest deals of all, but I have a feeling that we are going to get there eventually. I hope,” Trump said after the meeting, without elaborating.
|Abbas said he was committed to working with Trump to reach a “historic peace deal” [Mandel Ngan/AFP]|
The last round of peace talks, led by then-President Barack Obama and his secretary of state, John Kerry, fell apart in 2014.
One point of contention is the fate of occupied East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in 1967.
During his presidential campaign, Trump advocated breaking with decades of precedent and moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, deeply alarming Palestinians.
He has since said the move was still being looked at.
Diana Buttu, a Palestinian lawyer and former adviser to the Palestine Liberation Organisation, says Trump’s comments about striving for a negotiated solution between Israel and the Palestinians are not promising.
“The time is now for the world to end Israel military rule,” she told Al Jazeera. “It’s not going to come through negations; it’s only going to come through exerted efforts to hold the Israelis accountable by boycotting through sanctions and bringing them before the international criminal courts.”
“That Palestinians have to negotiate their freedom and prove ourselves worthy of freedom is repugnant,” Buttu added, arguing that Trump should use its multi-billion dollar financial support to Israel as weight to pressure it from ending its occupation of Palestinian territory.
“I have very little faith that he will be able to do anything with the Israelis to change their policy,” she concluded. “I don’t anticipate anything positive is going to come out.”
‘Day of rage’
The Palestinian prisoners’ affairs committee called for a “day of rage” on Monday for “the voice of the prisoners to be heard by the president”.
Tuesday marks the 37th day of a mass hunger strike inside Israeli jails. Palestinian news agency Ma’an estimates that more than 1,300 Palestinians are currently on strike behind bars in Israeli prisons, while Israeli outlets have placed the number in the high hundreds.
On Monday, Israeli forces shot and injured at least 11 Palestinian protesters who staged a general strike in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the besieged Gaza Strip in support of those prisoners on hunger strikes.
In a separate incident on Monday, Israeli forces shot and killed a Palestinian teenager as he allegedly attempted to stab a border police officer at a checkpoint near Bethlehem.
In Gaza, Hamas organised a demonstration on Monday to denounce its labelling as a “terrorist” group by many Western governments, including the United States.
After talks with Abbas, Trump will travel to Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem and give a speech at the Israel Museum.
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies