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'We'll get this done': Trump vows to fix Israel-Palestine crisis

US president tells Palestinian counterpart he is committed to winning peace deal, but offers few details
Trump meets Abbas in Oval Office of White House (AFP)

Donald Trump vowed on Wednesday to work to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians as he hosted his Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas at the White House - but offered no clues about how he could revive long-stalled negotiations.

In their first face-to-face meeting, the US president pressed Palestinian leaders to "speak in a unified voice against incitement" to violence against Israelis but he stopped short of explicitly recommitting his administration to a two-state solution, a longstanding bedrock of US policy.

"We will get this done,” Trump told Abbas during a joint appearance at the White House, saying he was prepared to act as mediator, facilitator or arbitrator between the two sides.

"Hopefully something terrific can come out between the Palestinians and Israel," the US president said, adding that a solution "is frankly maybe not as difficult as people have thought over the years."

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"But we need two willing parties. We believe Israel is willing, we believe you're willing, and if you both are willing, we're going to make a deal." 

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. Israel rejects a full return to 1967 borders as a threat to its security.

He said with Trump's "courageous stewardship and wisdom, as well as your great negotiations ability," the Palestinians would be partners seeking a "historic peace treaty".

"Mr President, it's about time for Israel to end its occupation of our people and our lands," Abbas said.

Abbas's White House talks follow a mid-February visit by Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in which Trump sparked international criticism when he appeared to back away from support for a two-state solution, saying he would leave it up to the parties themselves to decide.

Hamas's new direction

The meeting came days after Hamas, the rival group to Abbas's Fatah, released a new policy document calling for a Palestinian state within borders determined by the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Interviewed by CNN in Doha, the outgoing Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal, on Wednesday said Trump had a "greater threshold of boldness" than previous US administrations.

"This is a historic opportunity to press Israel... to find an equitable solution for the Palestinian people," he said. "And it will be to the credit of the civilised world and the American administration to stop the darkness that we have been suffering from for many years.

"This is a plea from me to the Trump administration to break out from the wrong approaches of the past and which did not arrive at a result. And perhaps to grab the opportunity presented by Hamas's document," he said.

The Hamas document stopped short of recognising Israel, however.

"Israel doesn't recognise Palestinian rights. When Palestinians have their own sovereign, free state then they can choose without outside pressure," he said in the CNN interview.

Trump's promises come against a backdrop of pro-Israeli declarations, including a vow to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The US vice president, Mike Pence, on Tuesday said Trump is still "giving serious consideration into moving the American embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem".

That move would spark Palestinian fury and is privately seen by many in the Israel and US security establishments as needlessly inflammatory. 

At the same time, Trump has urged Israel to hold back on settlement building in the West Bank, a longstanding concern of Palestinians and much of the world.

"Momentum is building and goodwill is growing," Pence said at an Israeli independence day event at the White House.

'The home run'

Abbas's term was meant to expire in 2009, but he has remained in office with no elections held.

He will be hoping Trump can pressure Israel into concessions he believes are necessary to salvage a two-state solution to one of the world's longest-running conflicts.

Palestinian officials have seen their cause overshadowed by worry over global concerns including the war in Syria and Islamic State group militants, and want Trump's White House to bring it back to the forefront.

The meeting on Wednesday is a sign that "Trump's approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is more conventional than anyone expected," said Ilan Goldenberg of the Center for New American Security.

"The big question now is what Trump will try to accomplish during this first meeting. If he goes for the home run and tries to restart negotiations, he is likely to fail."

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"Instead, Trump and his team should focus on incremental steps to improve the situation on the ground, preserve the possibility of the two-state solution at another time, and set conditions for negotiations in the future."

One of Trump's top advisers, Jason Greenblatt, held wide-ranging talks with both Israelis and Palestinians during a visit in March.

Abbas and Trump spoke by phone on 11 March and there are suggestions the US president could visit the Middle East this month.

A group of three influential Republican senators have called on Trump to ask Abbas to stop funding Palestinian prisoners and their families.

That could pose a major domestic political headache for Abbas, as he battles unpopularity and challenges from rival factions.

But according to former White House official Dennis Ross, Trump is helping Abbas by extending the White House invite.

"The president, in some ways, has already added to his relevancy by inviting him to come."

But mutual distrust between Palestinians and Israelis will be a formidable, if not impossible, barrier for Trump to overcome.

"The gap between the parties has probably never been greater," said Ross.

During his four months in office, Trump has struggled to translate his skill in achieving business deals into effective governance.

Efforts to overhaul healthcare, the tax system and government spending have faltered, despite Trump's Republican party controlling not only the White House, but both houses of Congress.

Hady Amr, who had three decades of Middle East experience before working on the peace process full time for secretary of state John Kerry, told AFP that Trump's Middle East push could similarly falter.

"When I was put into this job 24/7, three [and] a half years ago," Amr said, it was even more complex than he had thought.

"I hope I'm wrong, but I think that the president will discover, as he discovered about healthcare, that there is a reason it hasn't been solved."

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