PALESTINIAN President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed US President Donald Trump at the Palestinian presidential palace in the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem yesterday morning.
Some 2,000 members of the Palestinian security forces were deployed across the city for the occasion. Trump’s convoy entered Bethlehem shortly before 10am, arriving from the 300 Checkpoint and driving past Israel’s illegal Separation Wall.
He was greeted by Abbas, as well as Palestinian religious dignitaries and military officials, at the presidential palace before retreating for a closed-door meeting. Abbas and Trump held a brief joint press conference following the meeting, before Trump left Bethlehem ahead of a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
During the press conference, the US president said that ‘peace is a choice we must make each day, and the US is here to make that dream possible for young Jewish, Muslim and Christian children,’ presumably referring to children in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.
‘I truly believe if Israel and the Palestinians can make peace, it will begin a process for peace in the Middle East,’ Trump added. ‘Abbas assures me he is ready to work toward that goal in good faith, and (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu has promised the same. I look forward to working with these leaders toward a lasting peace.’
Abbas pledged to cooperate with Trump to reach a historic peace deal with the Israelis, and to work in partnership with the US against terrorism. ‘We hope history will testify to the fact that President Donald Trump was the one who achieved peace,’ Abbas said, adding that a two-state solution with East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital remains the Palestinian Authority’s preference to obtain a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
‘Our problem is with the occupation and settlements and the failure of Israel to recognise the state of Palestine in the same way we recognise it,’ Abbas said. ‘The problem is not between us and Judaism, it is between us and occupation.’ He also urged Israel to comply with ‘just and humane demands’ of hundreds of Palestinian hunger strikers currently on hunger strike for the 37th day in Israeli prisons.
The Palestinian leader added that ‘the key to peace’ in the Middle East is the independence and freedom of the Palestinian people. Trump’s visit comes amid continued expansion of illegal Israeli settlements across the occupied Palestinian territory; repression of the large-scale Palestinian prisoner hunger strike at the hands of Israeli authorities; and the deaths of three Palestinians shot by Israelis in the span of a week.
The two-day diplomatic trip has been marred with diplomatic blunders, notably over the geography of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with a schedule of the trip identifying Abbas as the president of Palestine instead of the US’ preferred description, the ‘Palestinian Authority’; the White House referring to the city of Jerusalem as being part of Israel; Trump mistakenly implying that Israel was not part of the Middle East; and American diplomats telling representatives of Netanyahu’s office that the Western Wall is part of the occupied West Bank.