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Trump 'committed' to delivering Israeli-Palestinian peace, but unclear how

Trump was greeted by Abbas and other dignitaries outside the city's presidential palace [AFP]

Date of publication: 23 May, 2017

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US President Donald Trump arrived in Bethlehem on Tuesday to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for talks over long-stalled peace efforts.
Donald Trump made the short trip from Jerusalem to Bethlehem on Tuesday to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who was hoping to convince the unpredictable US president to remain committed to an independent Palestinian state.

He arrived in Bethlehem by motorcade, crossing a checkpoint at Israel's controversial separation wall, and was greeted by Abbas and other dignitaries outside the city's presidential palace.

Trump spoke of reviving long-stalled peace efforts between the Israelis and Palestinians, but few specifics have emerged of how he intends to do so.

"I am committed to trying to achieve a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and I intend to do everything I can to help them achieve that goal," Trump said after his talks with Abbas.

Abbas reiterated his call for a two-state solution to the conflict, including an independent Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital.

"We are ready to open dialogue with our Israeli neighbours to build confidence and create a real opportunity for peace," he said.

Trump has spoken of reviving long-stalled peace efforts between the Israelis and Palestinians, but few specifics have emerged of how he intends to do so.

He has said he wants to broker a deal that has proven elusive for the past two decades. The Palestinians want a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, captured by Israel a half century ago.

"I've heard it's one of the toughest deals of all, but I have a feeling that we're going to get there eventually, I hope," he said before dinner at Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's residence on Monday.

Trump's visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories is part of his first trip abroad as president, and follows an initial leg in Saudi Arabia, where he urged Islamic leaders to confront extremism.

Separation wall

Security was tight for Trump's journey to Bethlehem, a 20-minute drive from Jerusalem but located across Israel's separation wall.

The wall is part of a project begun in 2002 during the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, that is to extend some 700 kilometres (450 miles) once completed.

It is a stark symbol for Palestinians of Israel's 50-year occupation of the West Bank, and in Bethlehem the wall has been covered with graffiti and street art.

Bethlehem also holds deep significance as the site where Christians believe Jesus was born and welcomes thousands of pilgrims each year for Christmas.

I've heard it's one of the toughest deals of all, but I have a feeling that we're going to get there eventually.
- Donald Trump

A banner hung in the city said "the city of peace welcomes the man of peace" along with photos of Abbas and Trump.

Hossam Zomlot, an aide to Abbas, said that "if President Trump wants to mediate and leads us to a historic agreement, a major agreement, we are ready to be his partners".

Their talks come with hundreds of Palestinians in Israeli jails on hunger strike since 17 April, and activists were hoping to display banners in Bethlehem to drawn Trump's attention to it.

On Monday, Palestinians also held a general strike in support of the prisoners.

Clashes broke out near a checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah involving several hundred stone-throwing youths and Israeli soldiers who responded with rubber bullets and tear gas, leaving at least one wounded.

Disputed Jerusalem

During his election campaign, Trump also advocated breaking with decades of precedent and moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, alarming Palestinians.

He has since said the move was still being looked at.

At the same time, he urged Israel to hold back on settlement building in the West Bank, a longstanding concern of Palestinians and much of the world.

The most high-profile moment of Trump's stay in Jerusalem was his visit to the Western Wall, one of the holiest sites in Judaism.

He became the first sitting US president to visit the site in the Israeli-annexed east of the city.

He was not accompanied by any Israeli leaders during the visit.

Allowing them to do so could have led to accusations that Washington was implicitly recognising Israel's unilateral claim of sovereignty over the site, which would break with years of US and international precedent.

The status of Jerusalem is ultra-sensitive and has been among the most difficult issues in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, stalled since April 2014.

Israel occupied the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, in the Six-Day War of 1967.

It later annexed east Jerusalem in a move never recognised by the international community and claims the entire city as its capital. 

The Palestinians see east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

After Israel and the Palestinian territories, Trump will head to the Vatican, and to Brussels and Italy for NATO and G7 meetings.

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