US President Donald Trump meets Mahmud Abbas on Wednesday for their first face-to-face talks, with the Palestinian leader hoping the billionaire businessman’s unpredictable approach can inject life into long-stalled peace efforts. Abbas makes the trip to Washington while politically unpopular back home, but hoping Trump can pressure Israel into concessions he believes are necessary to salvage a two-state solution to one of the world’s oldest conflicts.
Palestinian officials have seen their cause overshadowed by global concerns such as the Syrian war and Islamic State group jihadists, and want Trump’s White House to bring it back to the forefront.
“Palestinians are hoping that Trump’s unpredictability might play in their favour,” one Jerusalem-based European official told AFP on condition of anonymity. “They are going to be very disappointed. They can’t be sure of anything.” Examples were seen early on, with Trump backing away from the US commitment to the two-state solution when he met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in February. He said he would support a single state if it led to peace, delighting Israeli right-wingers who want to see their country annex most of the occupied West Bank.
Trump also vowed to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to the disputed city of Jerusalem, a prospect that alarmed Palestinians but which has been put on the back burner for now. At the same time, he urged Israel to hold back on settlement building in the West Bank, a longstanding concern of Palestinians and much of the world. One of Trump’s top advisers, Jason Greenblatt, held wide-ranging talks with both Israelis and Palestinians during a visit in March. Abbas and Trump spoke by phone on March 11.
Trump’s unpredictability is far from Abbas’s only concern, with polls suggesting most Palestinians want the 82- year-old to resign. Abbas’s term was meant to expire in 2009, but he has remained in office with no elections held. The bitter split between Abbas’s Fatah party, based in the West Bank, and Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip, has also taken a new turn in recent days.
Some analysts say it seems Abbas is seeking to increase pressure on Hamas in the impoverished strip, but he risks being blamed for worsening conditions in the enclave of two million people. Israeli officials say the Palestinian Authority dominated by Abbas’s Fatah has begun refusing to pay Israel for electricity it supplies to Gaza.