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Trump meets Palestinian President at White House, seeks steps to promote peace with Israel

US President Donald Trump will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House on Wednesday.
India TV News Desk Washington May 03, 2017 21:42 IST
India TV News Desk

US President Donald Trump today met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House where he is believed to have pressed to end payments to families of Palestinians imprisoned in Israeli jails. 

It was Trump and Abbas' first face-to-face discussion.

The payments to families of Palestinians imprisoned in Israeli jails is one of the several actions the United States believes could lead to resumed peace talks with Israel.

The issue of stipends for families of Palestinians killed or jailed in the context of the conflict with Israel is sensitive. Israel considers such payments a reward for terrorists, but stopping them seems untenable to Abbas, especially at a time of broad Palestinian support for a mass hunger strike of prisoners held by Israel.

American officials said such a request was raised in preparatory talks with Palestinian officials and three Republican senators urged a halt to such payments in a letter to Trump that reflected widespread opinion in Congress.

While Abbas will be challenged on the payments, Trump will also use their meeting to recommit the US to helping the Palestinians improve their economic conditions, said the U.S. officials before the meeting, who weren't authorized to publicly preview the talks and demanded anonymity. 

They said Trump will reiterate his belief that Israeli settlement construction on land claimed by the Palestinians does not advance peace prospects.

The peace process has been stalled since 2014 when former Secretary of State John Kerry's effort to lead the sides into peace talks collapsed. The Obama administration spent its last months in office attempting to preserve conditions for an eventual resumption.

"We hope this will be a new beginning," Abbas told Palestinians at a meeting in Washington on the eve of the talks.

He blamed the lack of dialogue in recent years on the Israeli government, saying its leaders "have no political vision," and reiterated his demands for an independent Palestinian state along pre-1967 lines, with east Jerusalem as its capital.

"Without this we will not accept any solution," said Abbas, who touted an Arab League peace plan that offers Israel diplomatic relations with the Muslim world for a Palestinian state. "There is no alternative."

Israel rejects the 1967 lines as a possible border, saying it would impose grave security risks. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hasn't outlined an alternative demarcation.

Abbas stops funding Gaza electricity to pressure Hamas 

Abbas is hamstrung by the fact that his Palestinian Authority does not control all Palestinian territory, since the militant Hamas movement seized control in the Gaza Strip in 2007.

Shortly before the White House meeting, a senior Palestinian official said Abbas would stop paying for electricity in Gaza and "dry up" the flow of funds to Hamas. Hamas accuses Abbas' government of irresponsible behavior and warns the cuts would be disastrous for Gaza's 2 million residents.

In his Wednesday comments, Abbas also criticized ideas for a "one state" peace agreement, saying it could mean "racial discrimination" or an apartheid-like system. Left unspoken was the apparent reference to Trump.

Trump committed to resolving Israel, Palestine conflict: Pence

President Trump is personally committed to resolving the long-running Israeli- Palestinian conflict and will never compromise on the safety and security of the Jewish State, US Vice President Mike Pence has said.

He said Trump's "tireless leadership" has helped in making progress towards attaining the peace in the region.

"The President has personally committed to resolving the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. Even now, we're making valuable progress toward the noble goal of peace," Pence said at a White House event to mark the Israeli Independence Day.

"Thanks to the President's tireless leadership, momentum is building and goodwill is growing. While there will undoubtedly have to be compromises, you can rest assured President Donald Trump will never compromise the safety and security of the Jewish State of Israel - not now, not ever," he said yesterday.

Pence said Trump had made it clear that America stands alongside Israel as friends and as allies and together they will confront those who threaten their people.

"Since the moment of their nation's birth, there's hardly been a day when the people of Israel have not lived without war or the fear of war, or the grim reality of terror," he said.

Pence said under Trump, America's support for Israel's security was at a record level.

In a February news conference with Netanyahu, Trump broke with longtime U.S. policy by raising the one-state idea and withholding clear support for an independent Palestine, though officials quickly stressed he would support any arrangement agreed by the two sides.

Another contentious issue: Trump's campaign promise to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The symbolic relocation would essentially recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Abbas and other Arab leaders have said doing so would inflame already simmering tensions.

Since taking office, Trump has backed away from the pledge while saying he's still discussing it. On Tuesday, Pence said the White House was giving "serious consideration" to the idea.