Donald Trump Calls Palestinian President Abbas For First Time, Extends Invite To White House

Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday invited Palestinian President Mahmoud  Abbas  to the White House, an  Abbas  spokesman said, after the two leaders spoke by phone for the first time since Trump took office.

"President Trump has extended an official invitation to President  Abbas  to visit the White House soon to discuss ways to resume the political process, stressing his commitment to a peace process that will lead to a real peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis," said  Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah.

Palestinians are concerned at the more favorable approach shown by Washington toward Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since Trump came to power.

Netanyahu and Trump have spoken on the phone at least twice since the January 20 inauguration and Netanyahu visited Washington last month.

Palestinian officials indicated  Abbas  would emphasize his concern about Israeli settlement-building on occupied land and the need for a two-state solution to the conflict.

"President  Abbas  stressed the commitment to peace as a strategic choice to establish a Palestinian State alongside the state of Israel," Abu Rdainah said, according to the official Palestinian WAFA news agency.

At a February 15 news conference during Netanyahu's visit, Trump was ambivalent about a two-state solution, the mainstay of U.S. policy in the region for the past two decades.

"I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like ... I can live with either one," Trump said, causing consternation acrosss the Arab world and in many European capitals.

Mahmoud Abbas

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council on February 27, 2017 in Geneva. He spoke with U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday for the first time since he entered the White House. Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty

The White House has since been more cautious on the issue, and there has been less talk of moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a promise Trump made during the campaign but a move that would provoke anger across the Muslim world.

David Friedman, Trump's nominee for ambassador to Israel, who was approved by the Senate foreign relations committee on Thursday, has said he wants to see the embassy move to Jerusalem and expects to work from the city at least some of the time.

While one of the first calls to a foreign leader made by Trump's predecessor Barack Obama was to  Abbas, Trump has been cautious in his contacts with the Arab world.

He has spoken to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and met Jordan's King Abdullah, who took the initiative and flew to Washington for an impromptu visit.

One of the most heated issues between Israel and the Palestinians is Israel's building of settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, territory the Palestinians want for their own state along with Gaza.

During the campaign, Trump said he did not necessarily see settlements as an obstacle to peace. Since his inauguration, Israel has announced plans to build at least 6,000 more settler homes, a substantial increase and an indication that Israel took Trump's softer language as a green light.

But during Netanyahu's visit, Trump said he wanted the Israeli prime minister to "hold back on settlements for a little bit", a position that took Netanyahu by surprise. Israeli and U.S. officials are now discussing what the parameters are on settlements.

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