U.S. President Donald Trump met Wednesday with Pope Francis at the Vatican, underscoring the emphasis during his first foreign trip on the three Abrahamic faiths.
The two men had a clash of words last year when Trump was running for president with a major pledge to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The pope said anyone who thinks of building walls instead of bridges “is not Christian,” a comment that Trump called “disgraceful.”
Later, after meetings with Italian leaders, Trump travels on to Brussels for a NATO summit. On Friday and Saturday, the president is back in Italy, specifically on the island of Sicily, for the Group of Seven summit.
During his earlier stop in Israel, Trump declared Tuesday that both the Israeli and Palestinian leaders are “ready to reach for peace.”
Trump made the remark alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a speech at the Israel Museum. Trump had held talks with Netanyahu on Monday and met him again on Tuesday after a brief visit to the West Bank for a one-hour discussion with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
“We know that peace is possible if we put aside the pain and disagreements of the past and commit together to finally resolving this crisis which has dragged on for nearly half a century,” Trump added in his speech at the museum, shortly before departing Israel for Rome, adding that Israelis and Palestinians “can make a deal.”
There was no specific mention in any of Trump’s remarks in Israel to “occupation” or the “two-state solution” – a pair of major sticking points for the Palestinians.
“Head spinning: Never has a U.S. president expressed so much confidence in a conflict-ending peace agreement with so little prospect of success,” tweeted Aaron David Miller who was a U.S. negotiator on the Middle East in both Republican and Democratic administrations.
Earlier Tuesday, speaking alongside Trump in Bethlehem, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the fundamental problem for the Palestinians is with the Israeli occupation and settlements and Israel’s failure to recognize Palestine.
“The problem is not Judaism but occupation,” added Abbas.
Abbas, who has seen his political support from his constituents weaken, reiterated a willingness to accept the two-state solution and the 1967 borders.
Trump, in Bethlehem, vowed to do “everything I can” to bring peace to the Middle East, echoing sentiments of several of his predecessors who tried and failed to achieve the same goal.
His effort to broker peace comes early in a Trump administration distracted by a domestic political firestorm, part of it self-ignited by the president’s own comments.
The U.S. president arrived in Israel on Monday after a two-day visit to Saudi Arabia, where Trump said King Salman assured him Riyadh wants peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.
In public remarks on Monday, Netanyahu warned that “it will not be simple,” but also expressed cautious optimism that “for the first time in many years and the first time in my lifetime, I see a real hope for change.”
At the prime minister’s residence Monday evening, Trump praised Netanyahu, elected to his fourth term in 2015, for “working very hard at it. It’s not easy…America stands ready to assist in every way we can,” noting, “There’s a lot of love out there.”
The status of Jerusalem, which both the Israelis and Palestinians claim as their capitals, is also a major complication to a solution.
The Palestinian Authority controls the West Bank and is seated in Ramallah. The militant group Hamas controls the Gaza Strip.
Hamas has said that Trump’s labeling it as a terrorist organization demonstrates the American president cannot be a fair broker for peace.
Vatican is next stop
Trump on Wednesday is to meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican, underscoring the emphasis during his first foreign trip on the three Abrahamic faiths.
Before leaving Italy, Trump will meet with the Italian president and prime minister prior to a Thursday flight to Brussels.
In Belgium, the American leader will make remarks at the new headquarters of NATO amid concern among alliance members about Trump’s commitment to the organization.
On Friday and Saturday, the president is back in Italy, specifically on the island of Sicily, for the Group of Seven summit.