WASHINGTON – President Trump welcomed the leader of the Palestinian Authority to the White House on Wednesday by pledging to accomplish something that many previous U.S. administrations have tried but never achieved: A lasting peace agreement between the Palestinians and Israelis.
"We will get it done," Trump said during a series of meetings with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority. "We will be working so hard to get the job done."
Trump has assigned his son-in-law Jared Kushner to work on a Middle East peace deal. He's also appointed real estate attorney Jason Greenblatt as Middle East envoy.
Underscoring the inherent difficulties of forging a peace agreement, Abbas told reporters that "it's about time for Israel to end its occupation of our people and our land."
Israel, meanwhile, has protested attacks by the Palestinians and calls from Hamas, the militant group ruling the Gaza Strip, for the destruction of Israel.
Earlier this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu questioned Abbas's motivations. "How can you talk about peace and fund terrorism?” he said, calling on his Palestinian counterpart to "fund peace, not murder" and cancel payments to families of Palestinians imprisoned in Israeli jails.
Netanyahu visited the White House in February. Now that he's met with both leaders, Trump said he is ready to "start a process" that could lead to a peace deal. "It is a great honor to have the president with us," Trump said of Abbas. "We are going to have lunch, we are going to have discussions."
In his first face-to-face meeting with the Palestinian leader – the two have spoken by phone – Trump said he would call on Abbas to abide by Netanyahu's request to end the payments to families of Palestinians imprisoned in Israeli jails, and demand that Palestinians end anti-Semitic threats and incitement of violence.
"Such hatred," Trump said, referring to those incitements. "But, hopefully, there won't be such hatred for very long."
And in his White House meeting with Netanyahu on Feb. 15, Trump raised another sensitive issue: Israeli settlements on land in dispute with the Palestinians. "I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit,” Trump told Netanyahu, even though the Israeli leader said he doesn't see settlements as the "core of the problem."
On Wednesday, with Abbas at his side, Trump said he is willing to be a "mediator," "arbitrator," or "facilitator" – if that's what it takes to "get this done."
It's clear Trump sees his deal-making skills as central to the negotiating process.
At one point, he expressed optimism that striking a peace deal "may be not as difficult as people have thought over the years."
Even so, he also acknowledged getting both sides to agree on a peace plan could be an uphill climb, calling Middle East peace the "toughest deal to make."
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