Mr. Abbas, 82, who was among the negotiators on hand for the historic signing of the Oslo Accords on the White House lawn in 1993, indicated that he did feel optimistic that nearly a quarter-century later Mr. Trump might be the president who finally builds on that initial agreement to forge a final resolution to the conflict.
Praising Mr. Trump’s “courageous leadership,” “wisdom” and “great negotiating ability,” Mr. Abbas said, “We believe that we can be partners with you to bring about a historic peace.”
Mr. Abbas implored Mr. Trump to understand the Palestinian perspective. “It’s time for Israel to end its occupation of our people and of our land,” he said. “After 50 years, we are the only remaining people in the world who still live under occupation. We are aspiring and want to achieve our freedom and our dignity and our right to self-determination.”
But the scale of that challenge was quickly made clear as Mr. Abbas repeated the conditions Palestinians have insisted on for years — the creation of an independent Palestinian state based on the borders that existed before the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital; the right of return for refugees; and freedom for prisoners in Israeli cells. As a package, that formulation has been a nonstarter for Israel, which itself has shown no sign since Mr. Trump took office of backing off any of its own longstanding fixed positions.
Mr. Trump has made clear that the details do not matter much to him, and he has abandoned the longtime American commitment to the so-called two-state solution. Hosting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in February, Mr. Trump said he would be fine with a two-state or a one-state solution as long as the two sides were satisfied.
During last year’s campaign and then the transition to office, Mr. Trump presented himself as Israel’s staunchest ally.
But since his inauguration, he has backed off some of his more provocative promises after being told they would inflame the region and make it harder to make peace — among them a pledge to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem, which would be taken as implicitly backing Israel’s claim to the whole city. Where Mr. Trump once said he would do that right after taking office, Vice President Mike Pence told an Israeli Independence Day reception at the White House on Tuesday that the president was “giving serious consideration” to such a move.
Mr. Trump has also pressed Mr. Netanyahu to hold back on new settlements in the occupied West Bank to avoid additional complications in any negotiations. But he made no mention of any such issues in his public comments with Mr. Abbas on Wednesday.
He did encourage Mr. Abbas to do more to discourage Palestinian incitement against Israelis. “There can be no lasting peace unless Palestinian leaders speak with a unified voice against incitement to violence and hate,” Mr. Trump said. “There’s such hatred. But hopefully there won’t be such hatred for very long.”
Mr. Abbas insisted that Palestinians were not preaching hatred. “I affirm to you that we are raising our youth, our children, our grandchildren on a culture of peace,” he said, a contention that Israeli officials would vehemently reject.
Mr. Trump did not publicly press Mr. Abbas to end financial payments to the families of suicide bombers and to other Palestinians who attack Israelis and Americans, a practice that Israel and its supporters say amounts to subsidizing terrorism. Republican senators have introduced legislation to cut off American aid to the Palestinian Authority unless the Palestinians stop making such payments, and in recent days they had urged Mr. Trump to raise the matter during his meetings with Mr. Abbas. Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said Mr. Trump later raised the issue in private.
Intrigued by the possibility of succeeding where no president before him has, Mr. Trump has devoted a lot of his time to meeting not only with Mr. Netanyahu but leaders from Jordan, Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world. He and Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser who has been assigned to play a leading role in negotiations, have discussed what aides call an outside-in approach in which the United States works with Arab states around the region to help bring Israelis and Palestinians together.
Such an approach has not worked in the past, but Mr. Trump has supreme confidence in his own negotiating skills after a lifetime in the real estate business. He may visit Israel and Saudi Arabia later this month as part of an overseas trip to attend NATO and Group of 7 summits in Europe.
“Over the course of my lifetime, I’ve always heard that perhaps the toughest deal to make is the deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” Mr. Trump said before lunch with Mr. Abbas. “Let’s see if we can prove them wrong.”