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Abbas says talks with Trump positive, if short on specifics

Speaking after the face-to-face meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House on Wednesday, Trump said he is committed to working with Israel and the Palestinians to reach an agreement.

Even as Trump boldly predicted he would achieve peace where other presidents had failed, he stopped short of explicitly recommitting his administration to a two-state solution to the decades-old conflict, a long-standing foundation of USA policy.

"Our strategic option, our strategic choice is to bring about peace based on the vision of the two-state - a Palestinian state with its capital of East Jerusalem that lives in peace and stability with the state of Israel based on the borders of 1967", Abbas said.

Trump extended his support to the Palestinian leader, saying that he wants Abbas to be the person who signs his name to the final and most important peace agreement that brings safety, stability, and prosperity to both peoples and to the region.

A few minutes later as a Cabinet Room lunch got underway, Trump, who was flanked by Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, told Abbas that achieving the peace pact is "maybe not as hard as people have thought over the years".

But receiving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House early in his term, Trump also showed he was willing to press Israel on West Bank settlement building, a longstanding concern of Palestinians and much of the world.

Abbas quickly reasserted the goal of a Palestinian state as vital to any rejuvenated peace process, reiterating that it must have its capital in Jerusalem with borders based on pre-1967 lines. The Netanyahu government, like those before it, have expanded settlements on war-won lands, despite USA appeals to curb construction.

US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as they deliver an statement at the White House in Washington D.C., U.S., May 3, 2017.

"We hope this will be a new beginning", Abbas told Palestinians at a meeting in Washington on the eve of the talks.

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Mr Abbas said he is ready to meet Mr Netanyahu, and suggested the Israeli leader is avoiding such talks.

Abbas said Palestinians are not cultivating a hatred of Israel as he rejected Trump's position, which is also held by Netanyahu. In the past, Mr Abbas balked at the idea of such a summit, saying it would be pointless without general agreement on the framework of negotiations and a significant curb in settlement construction.

On Thursday, Mr Netanyahu said he looks forward to discussing with Mr Trump the "best ways to advance peace".

Trump did directly implore the Palestinian leadership to end what Israel and the United States say is anti-Israel rhetoric.

"Mr. President, it's about time for Israel to end its occupation of our people and our lands", Abbas said, listing demands that the current Israeli government has baulked at. "But I hope that it's possible to achieve a change and to pursue a genuine peace. This is something Israel is always ready for.", Mr Netanyahu said. Three Republican senators urged a halt to such payments in a letter to Trump that reflected widespread opinion in Congress. However, officials close to the talks said it would be addressed in future meetings.

Abbas' positive portrayal of the meeting with Trump may not be enough for a skeptical public at home. Many Palestinians have become disillusioned with Abbas' strategy, after two decades of intermittent US -led negotiations ended in failure while Israeli settlements keep expanding.

In the West Bank, the main focus appears to be a hunger strike by hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, now in its 18th day. He offered no details about his effort or how it would be any different from attempts over the past two decades during which former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama all tried and failed.

Abbas is hamstrung by the fact that his Palestinian Authority does not control all Palestinian territory, since the militant Hamas movement seized control in the Gaza Strip in 2007.

Abbas who has been in office since 2005 and was part of two failed USA attempts to negotiate peace under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, reiterated the Palestinian principles for peace.

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