Palestinians on Trump–‘He’s not Obama. He’s tough, he calculates and is willing to change his positions’
Uneasy Palestinians pleasantly surprised by Trump, adviser says
Times of Israel
Palestinian officials were pleasantly surprised by the White House’s warm reception for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas last week, after worrying over the unpredictable nature of US President Donald Trump, a senior negotiator said Monday.
“There was a positive reaction because people did not know what to expect. It’s difficult to predict Mr. Trump. He was very warm, respectful, gave equal treatment to our president, like he’s given to other heads of state that he’s met,” said Nabil Shaath, a foreign affairs adviser to Abbas.
Abbas visited Trump at the White House on May 4, with the two leaders exchanging smiling pleasantries and high hopes for restarting Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.
According to Shaath, PA officials’ optimism in the aftermath of the meeting wasn’t due to specific content discussed, or concrete details of how to move forward.
“People were not very much concerned with every word said or phrase mentioned. People were judging the general atmosphere, the music of the meeting,” he told The Times of Israel during an interview at the Grand Park Hotel in Ramallah.
“What was discussed in Washington was getting ready to start the negotiations,” he added.
He noted the key players in Trump’s administration took part in the luncheon with the Palestinian team, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Vice President Mike Pence, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and senior adviser Jared Kushner.
When asked if Abbas and Netanyahu can sit in a room together without a settlement freeze, Shaath said, “It will have to be discussed in the next round of negotiations [with the Americans], likely when the president comes here.”
Trump is slated to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories later this month and will look to push forward efforts to restart peace talks, according to officials.
Though Trump had initially worried many Palestinians for his lack of support for the two-state solution, seeming willingness to allow settlement building and plans to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, Shaath praised the US leader as someone whose stances could shift.
“President Trump is a very different character than Mr. Obama. He is tough and willing to voice out his position. He is also willing to change. He is a man who calculates,” Shaath said.
He also said Ramallah had little choice but to work with the president.
The US is “not just a global player, it’s a strategic ally of Israel and of other regional players. You cannot ignore the US. We have to try with the new president like we tried” with past presidents, Shaath said.
He added, though, that the Palestinians are still presenting their case to the “entire universe,” and haven’t given up on the promises of the internationally backed French Peace Initiative.
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