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Trump calls Netanyahu 'a bigger problem' than Abbas: Reports

Comments are said to have come during meeting between US president and UN chief in New York last month
US President Donald Trump (L) and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands after delivering a speech at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on 23 May 2017 (AFP)

The US President Donald Trump described Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the harder side to convince in his efforts to mediate between the Israelis and Palestinians, according to well-placed sources.

A Western diplomat who was briefed on Trump’s comments, which came during a meeting with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in New York, told Haaretz that “Trump said both leaders are problematic.”

“But the general context was that from the two of them, Netanyahu is the bigger problem.”

The Israeli paper said that the claim was backed up by seven Western and Israeli sources who were either present at or briefed on the meeting.

But a senior White House official has since disputed the account of the meeting, saying: “This was a short but productive meeting that primarily focused on UN reforms and the great job [US Ambassador to the UN Nikki] Haley has been doing. After discussing the United States’ defence of Israel at the UN, the participants quickly addressed the ongoing peace conversations.

"The president said that he feels both sides want to make peace and he remains optimistic about an enduring peace deal. We are focusing on our productive conversations and not on the noise created by spoilers.”

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Guterres and Trump are said to have spent half of a 15-minute meeting speaking about the Israeli-Palestine issue alone on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last month.

According to a diplomat who was briefed on the meeting, Trump fancied himself as the US president that could broker a peace deal, adding that the time was right given that Abbas was getting older and wanted to leave a legacy behind and Netanyahu now had a US president who was sympathetic to Israel’s security needs.

Yet Netanyahu was surprised by Trump’s emphasis on peace talks when they met on the side of the UN last month. The Israeli prime minister had expected to discuss the Iranian nuclear deal, according to Haaretz.

Meanwhile Mahmoud Abbas is said to be supportive of Trump’s efforts after they also met at the UN, before which Trump said about a potential peace agreement: “I think we have a pretty good shot – maybe the best shot ever.

“I certainly will devote everything within my heart and within my soul to get that deal made. ... So we’ll see if we can put it together. Who knows? Stranger things have happened.”

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