Trump: Israelis and Palestinians are ready ‘to reach for peace’

Story highlights

Trump met with Abbas Tuesday

He delivered remarks at The Israel Museum

Jerusalem CNN —  

President Donald Trump said Tuesday in a speech here capping off his visit to Israel and the West Bank that he believes both Israelis and Palestinian leaders “are ready to reach for peace.”

“The Palestinians are ready to reach for peace. I know you’ve heard it before. I am telling you, that’s what I do. They are ready to reach for peace,” Trump said. “And my meeting with my very good friend Benjamin. I can tell you also that he is reaching for peace … Benjamin Netanyahu wants peace.”

Trump delivered those remarks in a speech at the Israel Museum following his meetings on Monday and Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Trump has struck an increasingly optimistic tone on the prospects for peace in recent days, insisting that he is sensing a shift in the region that could draw Arab countries closer to Israel and create more favorable conditions for peace.

But while Trump said earlier this month that he believed brokering peace is “maybe not as difficult as people have thought,” he measured his comments on Tuesday.

“Making peace, however, will not be easy. We all know that. Both sides will face tough decisions. But with determination, compromise and the belief that peace is possible, Israelis and Palestinians can make a deal,” Trump said.

In separate remarks on Tuesday, both Netanyahu and Abbas said they believed the time was ripe for peace, pointing to the initiative Trump has taken to facilitate a revival of peace talks – though both pointed the finger at the other side in describing the obstacles to peace.

“President Trump, working with you, I believe we can advance a global peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors as well as the Palestinians,” Netanyahu said.

Still, Trump jetted away without shedding any light on the next steps forward on negotiating that peace, leaving without any concrete achievements to point to.

Speaking with CNN before Trump’s speech, Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog also said he sensed a change in the region amid efforts by Trump and his team of negotiators to shake up the status quo in the peace process. That’s despite Trump’s campaign rhetoric, which signaled he would embolden right-wing forces in Israel.

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump lay a wreath during a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem on Tuesday, May 23.

“When Trump was elected, the settlers here celebrated and were sure they were going for annexation. Today, this right, ultra-right-wing government has frozen settlement construction and has given Palestinians construction in Area C,” Herzog said, referring to recent moves by Netanyahu’s conservative governing coalition.

“Suddenly, hope has come about,” he added. “There is a moment to seize. An opportunity to seize. One needs to seize it, show leadership and boldness, and we will help them.”

Trump’s speech on Tuesday, delivered at Israel’s museum to the Jewish state’s culture and history, also stood to reaffirm US commitment to Israel and hold up Judaism’s historical ties to the country.

“The ties of the Jewish people to this holy land are ancient and eternal. They date back thousands of years,” Trump said.

And while he remarked on his visit to the Western Wall, becoming the first sitting US president to visit the holy Jewish site, Trump did not deliver any promises on the final status of the city in which it sits, Jerusalem.

Trump called Jerusalem a “sacred city,” but did not follow through on his campaign pledge to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy to the city, which Trump called “the eternal capital of the Jewish people” during the campaign.

Trump was considering making that bold announcement during his trip here, but backed off fulfilling that pledge amid a torrent of warnings from US foreign policy officials and Arab diplomats, who said such a move would hinder peace efforts and set off tensions in the region.

While past US presidents have set out broad principles both sides must meet in order to reach a peace deal, Trump has resisted laying out any clear guidelines, instead promising to act as a mediator and urging both sides to take steps toward peace.

“Conflict cannot continue forever. The only question is when nations will decide that they have had enough – enough bloodshed, enough killing,” Trump said. “Change must come from within – it can only come from within.”

Trump’s speech drew on the symbolic nature of his first foreign trip, as he has jetted from Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, to Israel and then to the Vatican on Tuesday night, calling on members of the three faiths to “set aside our sectarian differences” and work toward peace.

A who’s who of conservative supporters attended the speech in Israel, with GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee among the crowd.