NEW YORK — President Donald Trump said Wednesday he’s been hearing about prospects for peace in the Middle East since he was “a little boy,” and now an agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians seems within reach. But there are few tangible signs of progress.
“There can be no promises, obviously,” Trump said as he met at a New York hotel with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. “We’ll see if we can do it. And if we do do it, it would be a great, great legacy for everybody.”
“I think we have a pretty good shot, maybe the best shot ever,” he said.
“It’s a complex subject, always been considered the toughest deal of all: peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the toughest of all,” Trump continued. “I think we have a very, very good chance. I will certainly devote everything in my heart and within my soul to get a deal made.”
Trump did not explain what his optimism was based on. Since taking office, the president has spoken confidently about using the skills he sharpened as a real estate developer to help broker an agreement.
Trump has given the Mideast portfolio to his son-in-law Jared Kushner, now a White House adviser. Kushner and other officials, including the U.S. ambassador to Israel and Trump’s deputy national security adviser, recently returned from a trip to the region.
Trump, 71, has spent the week powering through a series of one-on-one meetings with foreign counterparts in New York for the annual U.N. General Assembly session. In his address to the General Assembly on Tuesday, he made only passing reference to the Middle East. And White House officials played down the prospects for a Mideast breakthrough heading into the meetings.
Trump also hosted African leaders for lunch Wednesday. He expressed interested in boosting U.S. investment in Africa to help create jobs and opportunities on both sides of the Atlantic.
He met separately with British Prime Minister Theresa May and planned a later meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.
Abbas expressed confidence that the parties are close to an agreement, possibly before the end of the year. He said Wednesday’s meeting was a testament to Trump’s determination to achieve “the deal of the century.”
“This gives us the assurance and the confidence that we are on the verge of real peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis,” Abbas said.
Behind the scenes, however, the Palestinians, in particular, have grown restless with Trump’s lack of specifics. Neither he nor his negotiators have sketched out the contours of what they think a final agreement should look like, or outlined any strategy designed to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. And top Palestinian officials say Trump envoys recently relayed that they’ll need at least three months to devise a plan.
In the meantime, Trump’s declarations about Mideast peace appear to have moved the Palestinians further away from their goal of an independent country alongside Israel. Trump hasn’t explicitly supported an independent Palestine and has raised the possibility of looking beyond a two-state solution, the preferred outcome of Democratic and Republican presidents for decades.
At a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this week in New York, Trump said a peace deal would be a “fantastic achievement” and “we are giving it an absolute go.” Netanyahu did not address the issue in his public remarks.
Associated Press writers Bradley Klapper and Matthew Lee contributed to this report.
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