Binyamin Netanyahu met President Donald Trump yesterday in a widely anticipated and well-publicised summit, and though I missed the broadcast, my other half summed it up well in describing it as a mutual admiration society.
While others might not go so far (another relation said “both leaders said nothing very much in an extremely nice way”), the change in atmosphere between US Presidents was almost dizzying. There was no endorsement of the two-state solution (which appears to be dying a long-awaited death); and while settlement activity was not recommended, there was none of the overt hostility and condemnation that typified the Obama Administration’s approach. The Iran deal was strongly criticized by both sides and altogether it appears that there will be a “reset” in US-Israel relations.
Ynet reported that Trump praised Israel, encouraging both sides to seek peace:
President Donald Trump on Wednesday urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to curb settlement activity but avoided any explicit endorsement of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a longstanding bedrock of US Middle East policy.
Trump opened his joint news conference with a vow to encourage a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. But the president said the two parties themselves “must directly negotiate such an agreement.”
Netanyahu added, “both sides.”
The JPost reports that Netanyahu said he asked Trump to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights:
The United States should recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told US President Donald Trump when the two men met in Washington on Wednesday.
“His reaction was not earth shattering,” Netanyahu told reporters during a briefing at Blair House after the meeting. He did not elaborate any further about the mountainous area that Israel captured from Syria in the Six-Day war and then annexed in 1981.
The United States and the international community have never recognized Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights.
Israel has long argued that it must maintain that territory for security reasons.
The two men also talked about the civil war in Syria in general, with Netanyahu explaining that Israel had no interest in getting involved in the conflict.
“We want to avoid involvement as much as possible,” Netanyahu said.
Israel Hayom mentions that Trump backed away from the Two-State Solution:
During the press conference, Netanyahu declined to say whether he had given up on the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At the same time, Trump, departing from long-standing U.S. policy, did not push the two-state solution.
“I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like,” Trump said.
“I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one.
“I thought for a while the two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two. But honestly, if Bibi [Netanyahu] and if the Palestinians, if Israel and the Palestinians, are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best.”
Trump continued that “our administration is committed to working with Israel and our common allies in the region towards greater security and stability. That includes working toward a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. The United States will encourage a peace and, really, a great peace deal. We’ll be working on it very, very diligently. Very important to me also — something we want to do. But it is the parties themselves who must directly negotiate such an agreement. We’ll be beside them. We’ll be working with them. “As with any successful negotiation, both sides will have to make compromises. You know that, right?”
Netanyahu said that “the two prerequisites of peace, recognition of the Jewish state and Israel’s security needs west of the Jordan, they remain pertinent.”
He added: “I don’t want to annex 2 million Palestinians to Israel and I’ve no interest in them being our subjects. But we must make sure we’re not under threat of a Palestinian terror state in our heartland.”
On Jerusalem, the US embassy, and settlements they report:
The prime minister also told reporters he is prepared to discuss Trump’s request to hold back on settlement construction, noting that he and the U.S. president see “eye-to-eye” on most issues and that if this specific matter is important to Trump, he would be willing to make an effort.
However, he said that construction in Jerusalem, deemed controversial by some, would continue.
Asked about moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a step supported by Netanyahu, Trump said, “I’d love to see that happen. We’re looking at it very, very strongly. We’re looking at it with great care, great care, believe me. And we’ll see what happens. OK?”
One of the press asked about the rise in antisemitism in the US, particularly during the election campaing. Netanyahu was careful to praise Donald Trump as a great friend of Israel and Trump returned the favour:
Netanyahu celebrated Trump as a great friend of Israel’s, saying his presidency marks a new era in Israel-U.S. relations. He thanked Trump “for the truly warm hospitality you and Melania have shown me, my wife Sara, our entire delegation. I deeply value your friendship to me, to the State of Israel. It was so clearly evident in the words you just spoke. Israel has no better ally than the United States, and I want to assure you, the United States has no better ally than Israel.”
Netanyahu spoke of future cooperation between the two countries, saying, “I look forward to working with you to dramatically upgrade our alliance in every field, in security, in technology, in cyber and trade and so many others.”
“Mr. President, you’ve shown great clarity and courage in confronting this challenge head on. You call for confronting Iran’s terrorist regime, preventing Iran from realizing this terrible deal into a nuclear arsenal, and you have said that the United States is committed to preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons. You call for the defeat of ISIS [the Islamic State group].
“Under your leadership, I believe we can reverse the rising tide of radical Islam. And in this great task, as in so many others, Israel stands with you and I stand with you.”
Trump acknowledged the importance of cooperation in facing the threat of a nuclear Iran.
“The security challenges faced by Israel are enormous, including the threat of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, which I’ve talked a lot about,” Trump said. “One of the worst deals I’ve ever seen is the Iran deal.”
Netanyahu praised Trump’s attitude toward Iran, adding, “I think that if we work together, and not just the United States and Israel, but so many others in the region who see eye to eye on the great magnitude and danger of the Iranian threat. And I think we can roll back Iran’s aggression and danger. And that’s something that is important for Israel and the Arab states. But I think it’s vitally important for America.”
Trump added that Israel and the United States “have a long history of cooperation in the fight against terrorism and the fight against those who do not value human life. America and Israel are two nations that cherish the value of all human life.
“This is one more reason why we reject unfair and one-sided actions against Israel at the United Nations, which has treated Israel in my opinion very, very unfairly, or other international forums, as well as boycotts that target Israel.”
Both Trump and Netanyahu noted their long-standing personal acquaintance, and Trump made a point of thanking Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, during the press conference, saying, “You’re so lovely and you’ve been so nice to Melania, I appreciate it very much.”
When I watched the video of the press conference I was impressed at the articulateness of Trump’s speech and his delivery. He sounded statesmanlike and presidential, unlike during his campaign speeches. Either he has an excellent speechwriter, or he has had elocution lessons, or both. He was almost as good during the unscripted question and answer session with the press. Watch the video here:
For me the most outstanding point was the enormous warmth with which Netanyahu was welcomed and the grace with which he was treated. What a hugely refreshing change after the chilly Obama years! Malcolm Hoenlein, the CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. said that this warmth was intended deliberately to demonstrate the “reset” in relations between the US and Israel:
A top priority for US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at their White House meeting on Wednesday will be to show publicly that there has been a “reset” in the relationship between their two countries following the tensions that characterized the Obama era, a prominent American Jewish leader told The Algemeiner.
The language of the recent White House statement on Israeli settlements, Hoenlein pointed out, was “reminiscent of the 2004 Bush-Sharon letter that was ignored and even negated [by the Obama administration] — which was not good, because if presidential commitments don’t mean anything, then everyone will disregard any commitment that is made.”
In Hoenlein’s view, the new sanctions targeting Iran that were recently announced by the US Treasury Department were “very important as a message” to the Tehran regime.
“I think the Iranians are beginning to react to the stronger messages they’ve been getting,” he stated. “It will also embolden our allies to know that the US will stand against Iran. For too long, Iran was able to act with impunity. They look for weakness and when they find it they exploit it. If we stand up to their threats, aggression and violations, they will back down, as they did when they removed a ballistic missile that was about to be launched [earlier this month].”
When it comes to broader American policy in the Middle East, “I think what’s important is Trump is showing that America is again engaging in the region,” Hoenlein said.
May this be the beginning (or the continuation) of a beautiful friendship. Let’s hope that nothing occurs to sour this relationship.