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Trump meets with Abbas in Bethlehem during brief visit in West Bank

May 23, 2017 9:51 A.M. (Updated: May 23, 2017 11:05 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed US President Donald Trump at the Palestinian presidential palace in the southern occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem on Tuesday morning.

Palestinian presidential guard spokesman Ghassan Nimr told local media outlets on Tuesday that some 2,000 members of Palestinian security forces were deployed across Bethlehem for the occasion.

Trump's convoy entered Bethlehem shortly before 10 a.m., arriving from the 300 Checkpoint and driving past Israel's illegal separation wall.
Trump's convoy passes by Israel's separation wall in Bethlehem and a banner that reads: "The city of peace welcomes the man of peace."

The American head of state was greeted by Abbas, as well as Palestinian religious dignitaries and military officials at the presidential palace before retreating for a closed-door meeting.

Abbas and Trump held a brief press conference following the meeting, before Trump left Bethlehem ahead of a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

During the press conference, the American president said that “peace is a choice we must make each day, and the US is here to make that dream possible for young Jewish, Muslim and Christian children,” presumably referring to children in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.

“I truly believe if Israel and the Palestinians can make peace, it will begin a process for peace in the Middle East,” Trump added. “Abbas assures me he is ready to work toward that goal in good faith, and (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu has promised the same. I look forward to working with these leaders toward a lasting peace.”

Meanwhile, Abbas pledged to cooperate with Trump to reach a historic peace deal with Israelis, and to work in partnership with the United States against terrorism.

"We hope history will testify to the fact that President Donald Trump was the one who achieved peace," Abbas said, adding that a two-state solution with East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital remained the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) preference to obtain a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Our problem is with the occupation and settlements and the failure of Israel to recognize the state of Palestine in the same way we recognize (Israel),” Abbas said. “The problem is not between us and Judaism, it is between us and occupation.”

While the PA and members of the international community have rested the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the discontinuation of illegal Israeli settlements and the establishment of a two-state solution, a growing number of Palestinian activists have criticized the two-state solution as unsustainable and unlikely to bring durable peace given the existing political context, proposing instead a binational state with equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians.

Abbas also urged Israel to comply with “just and human demands” of hundreds of Palestinian hunger strikers currently forgoing food for the 37th day in Israeli prisons.

The Palestinian leader added that “the key to peace” in the Middle East was the independence and freedom of the Palestinian people.

Trump’s two-day visit -- during which he has visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Western Wall in occupied East Jerusalem -- comes amid fierce opposition among Palestinians, who denounce the far-right leader’s strong support of Israel and its policies targeting Palestinians, as well as his notorious anti-Muslim rhetoric.

During a joint press conference with Netanyahu on Monday, Trump emphasized the “unbreakable bond of friendship between Israel and the United States -- a friendship built on our shared love of freedom, our shared belief in human dignity, and our shared hope for an Israel at lasting peace.”

Meanwhile, Netanyahu thanked Trump for his “deep commitment to Israel’s security, its well-being, and its future.”

Trump’s visit comes amid continued expansion of illegal Israeli settlements across the occupied Palestinian territory; repression of the large-scale Palestinian prisoner hunger strike at the hands of Israeli authorities; and the deaths of three Palestinians shot by Israelis in the span of a week.

The two-day diplomatic trip has been marred with diplomatic missteps, notably over the geography of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with a schedule of the trip identifying Abbas as the president of Palestine instead of the US’ preferred descriptor, the “Palestinian Authority”; the White House referring to the city of Jerusalem as being part of Israel; Trump mistakenly implying that Israel was not part of the Middle East; and American diplomats telling representatives of Netanyahu's office that the Western Wall was part of the occupied West Bank.

Meanwhile, Israeli Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan was criticized on Monday for implying during the reception ceremony for Trump at the Ben Gurion airport on Monday that a possible “terrorist attack” had occurred earlier in the day in Tel Aviv, when Israeli police had already confirmed that the incident Erdan was alluding to was only a car accident.

Palestinians in both the occupied West Bank and inside Israel observed a general strike Monday, called for in part to express support for 1,300 Palestinians on hunger strike in Israeli prisons, and also to voice opposition to the resumption of peace talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel under US sponsorship.

Palestinians have also called for a “Day of Rage” on Tuesday to coincide with Trump’s arrival in Bethlehem.
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