US President Donald Trump described Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu as a greater obstacle to advancing peace talks than Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, according to a report in Haaretz.
Trump is said to have made the remarks in conversation with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on 19 September, the paper says, citing a number of “Western and Israeli sources who were either present at or briefed on the meeting”.
“Trump said both leaders are problematic,” said one Western diplomat. “But the general context was that from the two of them, Netanyahu is the bigger problem.”
A White House official, cited by Haaretz, disputed the account of the meeting. “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.”
The Trump-Guterres meeting was held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. Western diplomats cited by Haaretz said: “Trump reiterated to Guterres that he’s determined to try to advance a historic peace deal.”
Trump reportedly told Guterres that while Abbas “is very old – 82 – and suffers from domestic political problems, he needs a legacy to leave behind.”
Netanyahu, meanwhile, “understands that he’ll never have a president more understanding of Israel’s security needs, and therefore there’s a chance that he’ll agree to steps he hasn’t agreed to in the past.”
In light of these assessments, Trump apparently thinks “there’s a good chance of producing an agreement”. Guterres reportedly “encouraged Trump to continue pushing for Israeli-Palestinian peace and stressed that he, too, thinks there’s an opportunity to reach a historic deal.”