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After Meeting With Netanyahu, Trump Will Meet With Abbas


President Trump has said he wants to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. He's already hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House. Tomorrow, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will be there. And to talk about what Abbas might be trying to accomplish, we're joined by NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem. Daniel, good morning.


GREENE: So tell me about this visit by Abbas to the United States. Why now?

ESTRIN: Well, Trump says he wants to make a deal, so he's got to host both sides. First Netanyahu came, and now Abbas. And, you know, Trump's envoy, Jason Greenblatt, recently came to the region. He met with Abbas. And the Palestinian leadership was very happy with that meeting. All of this made the leadership a lot more optimistic about Trump because Trump seemed as - had a lot of contact with the Israeli leadership.

And during the campaign, Trump was very pro-Israel, talking about even moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. And now, that's on hold. So now, Trump is reaching out to the Palestinians. And they feel like it's now their turn to present their case to Trump. And also with this White House visit, Trump is giving Abbas some time in the limelight, which Abbas really needs right now.

GREENE: Why does he need time in the limelight at this moment?

ESTRIN: Well, Abbas has lost a lot of popularity with his people. There was a recent poll that suggested that two-thirds of Palestinians want to see him go. You know, he's in the 12th year of a five-year term. And there are no elections in sight, so his legitimacy is weak.

GREENE: Did you say 12th - 12th year of a five-year term?

ESTRIN: Twelve - one two, 12th year.

GREENE: It was supposed to be five years, but it went seven years longer, or?

ESTRIN: There have not been any elections. And so he has stayed in his seat. And he's 82 years old right now. And Palestinians are looking ahead at who is going to come next. I think the bottom line, David, is that for many Palestinians, after all these years, Abbas has not delivered the goods.

He has not managed to get serious concessions from Israel. Israel continues settlement construction in the West Bank. Palestinians are losing hope in getting an independent country and an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. So Abbas here wants to be able to come home to the West Bank at least showing that he's got Trump's ear.

GREENE: Daniel, whenever these meetings happen, I mean, everything is so delicate. There's so much attention to each and every word, mannerism. I mean, Israeli leaders must be watching this meeting incredibly closely.

ESTRIN: I mean, yesterday, it was Israeli Memorial Day. And Netanyahu had very, very tough criticism. He demanded Abbas stop monthly payments to Palestinian prisoners who carried out deadly attacks on Israelis. Palestinians see this as a kind of, like, welfare payments to people who have fought for the Palestinian cause. Netanyahu said Palestinian attackers, quote, "nurse incitement against our people with their mother's milk."

So I think it just goes to show, you know, trust between Israelis and Palestinians right now really is rock bottom. There is such little belief on both sides that there's a way forward. And so this is Trump's challenge. You know, he wants to broker a peace deal, but there is a danger to orchestrating yet another peace process. And Dennis Ross - he's a veteran U.S. peace negotiator - he spoke about that in a phone call to reporters.

DENNIS ROSS: What we can't afford is another big initiative that fails because that'll just feed the cynicism and disbelief. And it reduces even more any hope that anything can ever be done.

GREENE: Yeah, I mean, this has gone on for a very long time. But one of the really interesting things that sort of creates the context for this meeting, Daniel, the Palestinian militant group Hamas which rules in the Gaza Strip, they made some news yesterday with this new declaration about their position towards Israel. Explain that, and tell me how that factors into the meeting with Trump.

ESTRIN: Well, here's what Hamas did. It published a manifesto. It softened some of its past positions. So like now, Hamas is saying Jews aren't its enemy, but it still refuses to recognize Israel. So analysts are saying this wasn't really a shift in Hamas's ideology, but it was more of an effort to project a more moderate image to the world and to be seen as a legitimate representation of the Palestinian people, you know, exactly at the time that Abbas has been trying to undercut Hamas.

The Palestinian leadership is divided. You know, Hamas controls Gaza. Abbas controls the West Bank. So when Abbas meets with Trump, he wants to represent the Palestinian people. He wants to say, you know, I represent all of them. And it's going to be hard for him to say that.

GREENE: Speaking to NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem. Daniel, thanks so much.

ESTRIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.
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