Thursday, May 11, 2017

Timeline of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks as Trump vows to 'get it done'

It's an achievement that has proved elusive, yet continues to be a top objective for each successive American president: Middle East peace.

Aaron David Miller, a veteran peace negotiator for both Republican and Democratic administrations, said about President Trump on Twitter last week, "never in decades of involvement have I heard a U.S. president more confident with less prospect." Another longtime Middle East diplomat, Robert Danin, replied to Miller on Twitter: "But have you seen one less confident with greater prospect?"

Next week, Trump travels to Israel on his first overseas trip, where he is scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem, in the occupied West Bank.

"It’s something that I think is, frankly, maybe not as difficult as people have thought over the years," Trump quipped during Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' visit to the White House last week.

"Throughout my lifetime, I've always heard the toughest deal to make is the deal between Israelis and Palestinians," he said during a brief joint appearance with Abbas, "let's see if we can prove them wrong."

The 82-year-old Abbas has participated in several past negotiations and signed the Oslo Accords in 1993.

"With you, we now have hope," Abbas told Trump in English.

And Trump told Abbas, "I want you to be the Palestinian leader to sign the final agreement with Israel."

Historically, Washington’s approach has been, "We know what the final deal will look like, we just have to get the two parties there," according to Jonathan Schanzer, a research fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C. The new thinking, he told reporters last week, seems to say, "We want a deal but we don't know what that final framework will look like."

The Palestinians have little to lose, analysts say, and Trump has already exceeded their expectations just by extending an invitation to the White House, the first Abbas has received in three years.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was invited before Abbas to the White House, visiting in February and holding a joint news conference with President Trump.

"Bibi," Trump said at the time, using the prime minister's nickname, "and I have known each other for a long time -- smart man, great negotiator."

"I'm looking at two states and one state, and I like the one both parties like," Trump said at the joint news conference with Netanyahu. "I can live with either one."

But neither Trump, nor Netanyahu delved into details.

"Let us seize this moment together," Netanyahu said, "Let us bolster security. Let us seek new avenues of peace."

During his meeting, Abbas pitched the same platform Palestinians have presented for years.

"Mr. President," Abbas said, "our strategic option, our strategic choice is to bring about peace based on the vision of the two-state -- a Palestinian state with its capital of East Jerusalem that lives in peace and stability with the state of Israel based on the borders of 1967."

Last week, standing next to Abbas, Trump repeated more than once, "we will get it done."

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