Mideast Daily News

Trump Hosts Netanyahu at White House: Comradery on Display Despite Hints of Disagreement

By Michael Friedson | The Media Line

February 16, 2017

President Donald Trump and Israel Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu participate in a joint news conference at the East Room of the White House February 15, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The public face of the first meeting of President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was a picture of unity and comradery as the two leaders appeared before the media and offered mutual flattery and little insight into policy. While reporters were anxious to get a firm fix on where Trump and Netanyahu stand vis-à-vis the “two-state solution,” the president responded that any plan that is accepted by both Israel and the Palestinians is okay with him; and the prime minister noted that the title “two-state solution” means different things to different people and for further clarification, look to previous statements he has made. Despite reiterating that the nuclear agreement with Iran that became part of the Obama legacy was “one of the worst deals I’ve ever seen,” President Trump gave no indication that he would either “tear up the deal” or renegotiate it, both promises made during the campaign. His gentle jab at Netanyahu to “let up on the settlements for a little bit” resonated to a much greater degree back home in Israel where the political right reads the soft tone as a de facto green light for building on post-1967 land while the left hopes it indicates the new president will adhere to a policy it believes to be safer and less dangerous than what was indicated during the campaign. President Trump did say he still wants to move the  US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but that former vow to do so has now gone from being his first act as president to “we’re studying it,” to “we’re looking at it with great care.” While Israelis interpreted the Trump vagueness as an indication of support (“He didn’t say ‘no.’”) the Palestinians took the president’s soft sell and warm interaction with Netanyahu with a sense of alarm. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas chose to interpret the settlement comment as a prohibition. His office issued a statement saying he agreed with Trump’s call to “halt all settlement activities including in occupied east Jerusalem.” But in spite of the warmth on display, Israelis are still nervously seeking clues to understanding just where the Trump quest to make the deal of all deals – peace between Israel and the Arab world – leaves the Jewish state as the list of concerns grows. Most recently it includes not moving the embassy, being warned against settlement building and learning that CIA director Mike Pompeo secretly visited President Abbas in Ramallah on Tuesday night, his second since the inauguration.

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