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Trump’s Envoy to Mideast Meets With Mahmoud Abbas in West Bank


Mahmoud Abbas, right, the president of the Palestinian Authority, met with Jason Greenblatt, President Trump’s envoy to the Middle East, in the West Bank on Tuesday.

Mohamad Torokman/Reuters

JERUSALEM — President Trump’s new envoy to the Middle East met on Tuesday with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, striving in the administration’s first diplomatic undertaking here to maintain a public evenhandedness amid the deep distrust between the Israelis and Palestinians.

In a joint statement released by the American Consulate, the envoy, Jason Greenblatt, a real estate lawyer turned diplomat, “underscored President Trump’s commitment to working with Israelis and Palestinians to achieve a lasting peace through direct negotiations.”

No breakthroughs or new approaches were reported on Mr. Greenblatt’s second day in the region after his meeting with Mr. Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, the seat of Palestinian government. Nor were there expected to be. All sides have stressed that Mr. Greenblatt is, for now, taking in the endless complexities of the conflict here. He met for five hours on Monday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mr. Greenblatt has arrived as tensions are pushing in on many sides: Fifty years have passed since Israel took control of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, and leaders and people on all sides are deeply skeptical about the possibility of two states existing side by side here.

In the statement, Mr. Abbas, however, reaffirmed the “Palestinian strategic choice” for a two-state solution. No date was set, but Mr. Trump invited Mr. Abbas to Washington for talks in the near future.

The statement did not mention the issue of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. But that matter appeared to be front and center: News media reports here suggested that Mr. Trump would have to deliver some form of restraint in the building of new settlements to revive peace talks that have made no progress in years.

At the same time, Mr. Netanyahu — under pressure from his coalition’s powerful right wing to begin annexing settlements — faces the specific problem of finding new homes for the residents of Amona, a recently dismantled settlement that has become a rallying point for many on the right in Israel.

Palestinians have been deeply skeptical of Mr. Trump’s attempts at evenhandedness given how Israeli-centric his team is. Mr. Greenblatt is an Orthodox Jew, while Mr. Trump’s pick for ambassador to Israel, David M. Friedman, has been active in settlement expansion and has disavowed the two-state solution.

Still, Mr. Trump told Mr. Netanyahu publicly that settlement construction did not help the peace process, and several Trump officials have reached out to Mr. Abbas’s government (although the issue of Gaza, ruled by Hamas, a rival Palestinian group, has received little attention so far in the visit).

In the statement on Tuesday, Mr. Abbas said he told Mr. Greenblatt “that under President Trump’s leadership, a historic peace deal is possible.”

Mr. Greenblatt’s meetings have taken place in deep secrecy. Officials on both sides are refusing to comment, and leaked reports are sketchy and contradictory.

At a news conference on an Israeli high-tech deal, Mr. Netanyahu did offer a vague hint that more specific information might be coming.

“Regarding my conversations with Jason Greenblatt, I must say that they were good and profound,” the prime minister said. “I cannot say that we are finished, agreed. We are in a process, but a process of mutual dialogue, genuine, very honest, in the positive sense of the word. Very open and very honest — except it’s not open to the media yet. You will have to wait a bit, not too long, in my opinion.”

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