JERUSALEM — President Trump’s efforts to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process on Tuesday took him to Bethlehem, a Palestinian city of just 22,000 people but symbolically important to people around the world.
Meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at his presidential palace in Bethlehem, Trump said he was “truly hopeful” for a breakthrough in the decades-old conflict over the borders and legal status of the Palestinian territories.
“Peace is a choice we must make each day, and the United States is here to help make that dream possible for young Jewish, Christians and Muslim children all across the region,” he said. “In this spirit of hope, we come to Bethlehem, asking God for more peaceful, safe and far more tolerant world for all of us.”
Trump came to Israel Monday from Saudi Arabia, where Arab Muslim leaders applauded his commitment to battle terrorism and ostracize Iran. Meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, Trump said the goodwill from that visit would spill over into peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
Trump awoke Tuesday to the news of an apparent terrorist attack at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England and was briefed by his national security adviser before meeting with Abbas. He condemned the “evil losers” he said were behind the attack.
“It’s so interesting that our meeting took place on this very horrible morning of death to innocent young people,” Trump said. “Peace can never take root in an environment where violence is tolerated, funded and even rewarded.”
It was the second time Trump has met with Abbas just this month. Greeting Abbas at the White House three weeks ago, Trump touted U.S.-Palestinian cooperation on a number of issues, including jobs, security and counter-terrorism.
Abbas said Tuesday he hoped that Trump “will go in history” as the president who finally achieved Middle East peace. But he also complained that Israeli settlements near Bethlehem undermined the two-state solution that’s been the basis of negotiations.
“The problem is not between us and Judaism. It is between us and occupation,” Abbas said.
Trump later visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, for a wreath laying ceremony. “Words can never describe the bottomless depths of that evil or the scope of the anguish and destruction. It was history’s darkest hour,” he said.
The president is scheduled to give a speech at the Israel Museum before departing Tuesday afternoon for Rome, the third stop on a whirlwind five-stop journey through the Middle East and Europe. He’ll meet with Pope Francis Wednesday.