An envoy for President Trump finished two days of talks with leaders in Jerusalem and Ramallah as the new administration launched into the nitty-gritty of advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.
Jason Greenblatt, the U.S. special representative for international negotiations, met for about two hours Tuesday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at his headquarters in the West Bank, a day after talking late into the evening with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.
The statements after Greenblatt's meetings said the U.S. seeks to encourage a "genuine and lasting peace," although they contained scant mention of the longtime goal of establishing a Palestinian state.
Greenblatt's shuttle diplomacy is part of an effort to see whether the new administration can revive the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process and succeed in brokering what Trump has described as "the ultimate deal."
In a tweet shortly after meeting Abbas, Greenblatt, a former real estate lawyer with the Trump Organization, described the discussion as a "positive, far-reaching exchange." A statement released later by the U.S. consul general in Jerusalem said the sides discussed reining in anti-Israeli rhetoric and incitement in the Palestinian territories, something cited by Israeli officials and international diplomats as an obstacle to a peace deal.
U.S. and Palestinian statements also quoted Abbas as saying that a "historic" peace deal is possible under Trump. Abbas' spokesman, Nabil abu Rudaineh, said the talks were "positive and encouraging," according to the official Palestinian news service, Wafa.
The meetings come just days after Trump held his first conversation with Abbas and invited him to visit the White House. That call came only after Trump had warmly received Netanyahu at the White House and held several phone conversations with the Israeli leader.
Shaking hands before the start of their talk Monday, both Netanyahu and Greenblatt expressed hope to do "great things."
They met for five hours before releasing a joint statement saying they had discussed a joint approach on Israeli settlement construction in the occupied West Bank. According to the statement, the construction is "consistent" with a peace deal.
The Trump administration is starting its peace effort at a time when the outlook for an accord is dim and direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians have been mothballed for more than three years. While Abbas is contending with growing pessimism among Palestinians about the prospects for a peace deal, along with public pressure to end cooperation between his security forces and the Israeli army, Netanyahu is grappling with right-wing ideologues in his coalition who are pushing to annex parts of the occupied West Bank where Jewish settlements have been built.
At his White House news conference with Netanyahu, Trump seemed to back off a decades-long U.S. commitment to establishing a Palestinian state. He said he would accept any peace formula agreed to by the two sides, including one that envisioned a single state of Palestinians and Jews.
Opponents of such a state say the only way it could maintain the Jewish nature of the state of Israel would be to deny democratic rights to Palestinians.
In the statements after Greenblatt's meetings, reference to a Palestinian state was nearly absent except for a reference to Abbas' remark that the goal of a two-state solution still remains the preferred choice of the Palestinian leadership.
Trump's campaign rhetoric — later softened — about moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem soured already skeptical Palestinian attitudes about U.S. mediation efforts. So did his choice of an ambassador, David Friedman, who is a patron of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and an opponent of Palestinian statehood.
A poll of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip released Tuesday found that only 9% expect that the president will restart peace talks, while nearly 38% believe that the new administration could help foment violence between the sides.
Greenblatt's maiden trip as a peace envoy has spurred Israeli media reports that the new president seeks to arrange a regional summit to help kick off a new round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. But State Department spokesman Mark Toner sought to lower expectations, saying that no breakthroughs were expected because Greenblatt was coming primarily to listen to what the sides had to say.
Mitnick is a special correspondent.