President Donald Trump told Russian President Vladimir Putin that the time was ripe for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
“President Putin noted that he would meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas later today, and President Trump said that now is the time to work toward an enduring peace agreement,” the White House said in a statement Monday describing a phone call between the two leaders.
Trump told an Israeli newspaper last week he was not confident that either the Israelis or the Palestinians are ready for peace. The Palestinians walked away in December from U.S.-led attempts to revive the peace talks when Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Nonetheless, Trump’s team seeking to revive the talks, led by his son-in-law Jared Kushner, has not flagged in attempts to create the conditions that would lead back to negotiations. The top negotiator, Jason Greenblatt, has decried the continuing economic crisis in the Gaza Strip. While principally blaming Gaza’s Hamas rulers for the crisis, Greenblatt has also encouraged Israel and Egypt to ease the entry of goods into Gaza.
There were other signs that despite Trump’s tough talk, his administration was committed to flexibility as a means of getting the talks back on track.
The State Department budget released this week notably did not include cuts in assistance that the Trump administration had warned were coming to countries that voted against the United States in a U.N. General Assembly resolution last month condemning Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem, the Daily Beast reported.
The budget also rolled back provisions in place since 2011 that required the president to shutter the Palestine Liberation Organisation office in Washington if the PLO seeks statehood recognition outside the parameters of negotiations. In a passage first noted by Lara Friedman, the president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, a group that advocates for the two-state solution, the Trump administration will continue to allow the office to remain open if it deems doing so is in the U.S. national security interest.
Separately, Yuval Rotem, the director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, met Monday with Thomas Shannon, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, to launch the U.S.-Israel foreign policy dialogue.
“The dialogue addressed issues of mutual interest in the Middle East and across the globe, including opportunities for cooperation in Africa on development, economics, and counter terrorism; challenges in Asia and ways to advance shared interests in the Indo-Pacific region; and efforts to advance shared approaches to regional engagement in the Americas in collaboration with the Organisation of American States,” the statement said. “The dialogue also focused on digital diplomacy and recent developments in research and social media technology.”
Putin appears eager to remain engaged in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, judging by recent overtures. He hosted Palestinian Authority President Abbas in Moscow Monday, and told Abbas about his phone call with Trump.
“Naturally we spoke about the Palestinian-Israeli settlement,” said Putin, according to the state news agency TASS. He told Abbas: “I would like to convey to you his [Trump’s] best wishes.”
Putin also hosted Israeli Prime Minsiter Benjamin Netanyahu on Jan. 29. The two reportedly discussed Israeli concerns about Iran and Syria — two allies, if not client states, of Russia. The visit took place at the city’s Jewish museum and featured a Holocaust commemoration event.