Trump in Israel–but now that Iran continues on open their politics to the west–Trump even increases Pressure
JERUSALEM — President Trump began a two-day visit to Israel and the West Bank on Monday, wading into a generations-old Middle East standoff that will pose an early test of whether his business deal-making skills can translate to the high-wire world of international diplomacy.
Air Force One touched down around noon at Ben-Gurion International Airport outside Tel Aviv, where the president and his family were greeted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials. Mr. Trump had a day of symbolic visits ahead, before delving into the heart of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians in pursuit of what he has called “the ultimate deal.”
Mr. Trump arrived on what was believed to be the first open, direct flight to Israel from Saudi Arabia, which do not have diplomatic relations, and said he had “found new reasons for hope” for peace during his meetings with Muslim leaders in the Saudi capital of Riyadh over the weekend.
We have before us a rare opportunity to bring security and stability and peace to this region and its people, defeating terrorism and creating a future of harmony, prosperity and peace,” Mr. Trump said during an airport arrival ceremony before flying by helicopter to Jerusalem. “But we can only get there working together. There is no other way.”
Although Mr. Trump presented himself during last year’s campaign as the staunchest ally Israel could hope for in the White House, since taking office, he has backed away from some of his promises and adopted an approach closer to that of his predecessors.
Israelis had expected the United States to have announced by now plans to move its embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, as Mr. Trump had vowed to do “quickly.” But the American president has postponed that promise because of fears that it could provoke a backlash among Palestinians and their Arab allies, complicating peace negotiations. Mr. Trump’s full-throated defense of Israeli settlements has also evolved into a request that Mr. Netanyahu delay new projects.
The days leading up to Mr. Trump’s arrival underscored the potential for friction. Mr. Trump disclosed to Russia’s foreign minister and its ambassador to Washington last week sensitive information about an Islamic State plot that had originally come from Israel, potentially jeopardizing the Israeli intelligence source. American officials also declined to invite Mr. Netanyahu to accompany Mr. Trump to the Western Wall and would not say that the sacred site was part of Israel, actions that made many Israelis bristle.
A visit to the ancient desert fortress of Masada was canceled over the question of whether a helicopter could land at the top of the site, and Mr. Trump’s team wanted only a brief stop at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum, which offended some Israelis.
The $110 billion in arms sales that Mr. Trump announced in Saudi Arabia before arriving was also a source of concern. Mr. Netanyahu had to order cabinet ministers to go to the arrival ceremony at the airport, after some had said they would not attend. Some Israeli officials said their main hope for the visit was to make sure that there was no great gaffe or misunderstanding.
Mr. Tillerson said the arms sales to the Saudis should not concern the Israelis. “There has been nothing entered into with the arms sales agreements with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia or any of the other countries that do not fully allow us to fulfill our commitments to Israel and the longstanding security arrangements we have with Israel,” he said. “I’m sure we can answer those questions and address the concerns they have.”
Mr. Netanyahu has resolved not to mention the intelligence breach publicly, but Israeli officials and intelligence officers have privately expressed anger and frustration. Mr. Tillerson said the president had no need to express regret. “I don’t know that there’s anything to apologize for,” he said. “To the extent the Israelis have any questions, or clarification, I’m sure we’re happy to provide that.”
Despite all that, much as he was Saudi Arabia, Mr. Trump is viewed by many in Israel as a welcome change from Mr. Obama, whose relationship with Mr. Netanyahu soured early on, after Mr. Obama called for a settlement freeze, and only worsened from there.
One of the primary goals of Mr. Trump’s trip was to solidify the emerging alignment between Israel and Sunni Arab states against the Shiite-led Iran. He sees a peace agreement as part of that effort, and hopes to use an “outside-in” strategy of enlisting Arab neighbors to help resolve the long-running dispute between Israelis and Palestinians.
After a meeting with President Reuven Rivlin, Mr. Trump suggested that Arab states like Saudi Arabia were readier to make peace with Israel because of their shared antipathy for Iran. “There is a growing realization among your Arab neighbors that they have common cause with you in the threat posed by Iran, and it is indeed a threat, there’s no question about that,” he said.
Mr. Trump arrived just a couple of weeks shy of the 50th anniversary of the Arab-Israeli war of 1967 when, among other territorial gains, Israel annexed East Jerusalem and occupied the West Bank, as it does to this day.
Copyright New York Times