Bolstered by Saudis, Trump sees chance for ‘new level’ of Israel-Arab ties

US President Donald Trump on Monday expressed optimism that a “new level of partnership” between Israel and Arab states was possible, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu touted “real hope for change” in the region for the first time in his lifetime.

Speaking during a joint press conference at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, Trump said the US and Israel face opportunities in the Middle East as never before.

“We must seize them together. We must take advantage of the situation. And there are many things that can happen now that could never have happened before,” Trump said.

Hours earlier, in a short photo-op with Netanyahu, Trump said Saudi leaders had expressed interest in working with Israel, especially against the shared threat of Iran.

Speaking after the meeting with Netanyahu and before a state dinner with him, the US president maintained that he was encouraged by his talks in Saudi Arabia with Arab leaders over the weekend.

“We are willing to work together. I believe that a new level of partnership is possible and will happen,” Trump said, referring to ties between the US, Israel and the Arab world.

Earlier, in a separate press conference by the two leaders ahead of their meeting, Trump said there were “very positive” feeling toward Israel in Saudi Arabia.

US President Donald Trump meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the King David hotel in Jerusalem on May 22, 2017 (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

“We had an amazing two days and their feeling towards Israel is really very positive,” he said of his trip to Riyadh. “Tremendous progress has been made. I think a lot of that progress has been made because of the aggression of Iran and it’s forcing people together in a very positive way. And if you look at King Salman and Saudi Arabia and others that I was with – the UAE and Bahrain and Kuwait and so many others, it was something.”

“It was very historic, what took place over the last two days,” Trump said. “But I could see a much deeper path to friendship with Israel, and I think a lot of that’s spurred on whatever it takes, but a lot of it’s spurred on by what’s happening with Iran. So progress has been made.”

Trump, who arrived in Israel Monday afternoon after three days in Saudi Arabia on his first trip abroad as president, held meetings with Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin Monday, along with various diplomatic staff and advisers. He is scheduled to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and his wife Sara, second right, host US president Donald Trump, left, and his wife Melania at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, May 22, 2017. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

According to Israel’s Channel 2, Trump told Israeli officials that Arab leaders he’s spoken with tell him that they are ready for peace with Israel, and that it is Israel that is preventing progress.

Trump has also been saying that they all stress the importance of the Palestinian issue. The US president has said that he has come here, among other things, to show those Arab leaders that they’re wrong, and that Israel is not the problem, according to the report.

Speaking with Netanyahu Monday evening, Trump said a regional effort would include a “renewed effort” to restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, perhaps signaling that the issue would not be central to Israel forging ties with Gulf States, a stance most Arab leaders have rejected.

“It won’t be easy,” he said. “I’ve heard its one of the toughest deals of all. But I have a feeling we will get there eventually, I hope.”

US President Donald Trump, Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, Jordan's King Abdullah II, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi and other officials pose for a group photo during the Arabic Islamic American Summit at the King Abdulaziz Conference Center in Riyadh on May 21, 2017. (AFP/ MANDEL NGAN)

In his first meeting of the day, Trump told Rivlin that he was “deeply encouraged” by conversations with Muslim leaders, including Saudi Arabia’s King Salman.

“There is a growing realization among your Arab neighbors that they have common cause with you in the threat posed by Iran,” he said.

Welcoming Trump in his residence on Monday, Netanyahu also adopted an upbeat tone, saying he and the US president had “terrific discussions” and “we understand each other.”

Addressing the prospects of regional Arab-Israeli peace, Netanyahu said there was “something new, and potentially something very promising” in the air.

“It won’t be simple. But for the first time in many years, and Mr. President, for the first time in my lifetime, I see a real hope for change,” Netanyahu said.

In a dig at Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, the prime minister applauded the “reassertion of American leadership in the Middle East,” pointing to Trump’s stance on Iran and the US airstrike responding to the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons.

US President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, Sara Netanyahu and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pose for pictures before an official diner in Jerusalem on May 22, 2017. US (AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN)

“I want you to know how much we appreciate the change of American policy on Iran, which you enunciated so clearly just an hour ago,” Netanyahu said.

The prime minister also thanked Trump for visiting the Western Wall on Monday, becoming the first sitting US president to do so.

“The people of Israel applaud you for it,” he said, to applause from the crowd.

Trump, for his part, said he was “deeply moved by the visit today to the Western Wall.”

“It will leave an impression on me forever,” he added.

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