By Jeffrey Heller
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump remains “very committed” to achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace, his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the start of talks on Thursday.
But there was little to suggest any breakthrough or significant progress towards ending a decades-old conflict is imminent as Kushner began a day of separate meetings with Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Palestinians were still seeking a pledge of support from the Trump administration for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel – the foundation of U.S. Middle East policy for the past two decades. The last round of peace talks between the two sides collapsed in 2014.
For his part, Netanyahu faces pressure from right-wing coalition partners not to give ground on Jewish settlement building in occupied territory that Palestinians seek for a independent state. The settlement issue contributed to the breakdown of negotiations three years ago.
“We have things to talk about – how to advance peace, stability and security in our region, prosperity too. And I think that all of them are within our reach,” Netanyahu, welcoming Kushner to his Tel Aviv office, said in a video clip released by the U.S. Embassy.
Kushner, a 36-year-old real estate developer with little experience of international diplomacy or political negotiation,
arrived in Israel with U.S. Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt on Wednesday after meeting Arab leaders in the Gulf, Egypt and Jordan.
“The president is very committed to achieving a solution here that will be able to bring prosperity and peace to all people in this area,” Kushner, who was tasked by Trump to help broker a peace deal, said in his response to Netanyahu.
Trump has described peace between Israelis and Palestinians as “the ultimate deal” – and added a new wrinkle last February by saying he was not fixed on two states co-existing side by side as a solution to their dispute.
In the West Bank, Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Abbas, said Kushner’s visit – he last traveled to Israel and the Palestinian territories in June – could prove significant, particularly because of the envoy’s consultations with regional allies this week.
“This may create a new chance to reach a settlement based on the two-state solution and the Arab initiative and stop the current deterioration of the peace process.”
Abu Rdainah was referring to a 2002 Arab League initiative that offers Israel diplomatic recognition from Arab countries in return for a statehood deal with the Palestinians and a full Israeli withdrawal from territory captured in a 1967 war.
Netanyahu has expressed tentative support for parts of the blueprint, but there are many caveats on the Israeli side, including how to resolve the complex Palestinian refugee issue.
Painting a pessimistic picture, Mahmoud al-Aloul, the second-ranking official in Abbas’ Fatah movement, accused U.S. negotiators of focusing in their talks with the president on “Israeli lies” about Palestinian incitement to violence and ignoring what he described as fundamental statehood issues.
“I do not think the American envoys are coming carrying anything – nothing at all,” he told reporters.
(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, editing by Mark Heinrich)