In Bethlehem, Trump seems to reject Netanyahu’s outside-in approach

US President Donald Trump on Tuesday appeared to reject Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s vision of a wider Arab-Israeli detente that will eventually lead to a peace agreement with the Palestinians, instead stating that the sequence of peacemaking would have to be the other way around.

Speaking alongside Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem, the president reaffirmed his commitment to brokering an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, and lauded both leaders for their declared willingness to go along with his plan.

But then Trump set out a formula from which Netanyahu is unlikely to derive much pleasure.

“I am truly hopeful that America can help Israel and the Palestinians forge peace and bring new hope to the region and its people,” Trump said, reading from prepared remarks. “I also firmly believe that if Israel and the Palestinians can make peace, it will begin a process of peace all throughout the Middle East.”

For years, Netanyahu has argued that bilateral talks between Ramallah and Jerusalem are unlikely to yield a final-status peace deal. Instead, he insists, the Sunni Arab world, which sees in Israel a vital ally against their common foe Iran, will eventually convince the Palestinians to make the concessions necessary for a peace agreement.

The prime minister spoke about his so-called inside-out approach Monday night at a meeting with Trump in Jerusalem.

“I also look forward to working closely with you to advance peace in our region, because you have noted so succinctly that common dangers are turning former enemies into partners. And that’s where we see something new and potentially something very promising.” Netanyahu said. “The Arab leaders who you met yesterday could help change the atmosphere and they could help create the conditions for a realistic peace,” he continued, referring to the Arab Islamic American Summit in Riyadh, which Trump attended.

It is true that Trump believes in a grand bargain that would lead to peace between Israel and the larger Arab world, but he apparently differs with Netanyahu on the direction: inside-out versus outside-in.

Netanyahu hopes that Trump can help formalize Israel’s clandestine cooperation with the Gulf states before a peace deal with the Palestinians is reached. But in Bethlehem on Tuesday, Trump indicated that he sees the direction reversed — or, rather, restored to the time-honored formula first laid down in the 2002 Saudi peace initiative: First, Israelis and Palestinians need to sign a peace treaty. Then, the entire Arab and Muslim world will normalize relations with Israel.

Trump has yet to formally endorse the two-state solution. So far, he has not uttered the words “Palestinian state” in any of his appearances since he landed at Ben Gurion on Monday. He also subtly hinted on Tuesday at his disapproval of the Palestinians’ failure to effectively fight incitement to violence, including their payments to terrorists and terrorists’ families, when he said, “Peace can never take root in an environment where violence is tolerated, funded and even rewarded. We must be resolute in condemning such acts in a single unified voice.”

Trump has also not said anything about the Arab Peace Initiative. But his repeated references to his meetings in Riyadh with King Salman — even in Israel and the Palestinian territories, he has been heaping more praise on the Saudi monarch than on his hosts — suggest that he was deeply impressed by the man.

“King Salman of Saudi Arabia could not have been kinder, and I will tell you: He’s a very wise, wise man,” he said Tuesday in Bethlehem.

US President Donald Trump (C-L) and Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud (C-R) arrive for the Arabic Islamic American Summit at the King Abdulaziz Conference Center in Riyadh on May 21, 2017 (AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN)

Trump described Sunday’s summit in Riyadh as “a deeply productive meeting” in which he witnessed “a lot of love.”

Likewise, on Monday, at a meeting with President Reuven Rivlin, Trump stressed that he was “deeply encouraged” by his conversations with Muslim leaders there. “King Salman feels very strongly, and I can tell you would love to see peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”

But what Trump heard at the Riyadh summit, which was attended by Abbas, was a total, unanimous, unambiguous endorsement of the Arab Peace Initiative. It is highly unlikely that any of the leaders he met there gave him any indication that they’re subscribing to Netanyahu’s outside-in approach.

That is not to say that Trump will try to force Israel to accept the terms of Arab Peace Initiative, some of which are unacceptable to the Israeli government. But on Tuesday he made plain that he believes Israeli-Palestinian peace “will begin a process of peace all throughout the Middle East,” and not, as Netanyahu asserts, culminate that process.




Jonathan Pollard appealed on Sunday to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: Don’t forget me during your meeting with US President Donald Trump on Monday.

Pollard made the comments during conversations he held with close friends over the weekend. His wife, Esther, recounted them to The Jerusalem Post.


“As much as Trump needs to be held to his promise to move the embassy, it is just as important that the prime minister keep his promise to bring an agent home,” Pollard reportedly said to the friends during the weekend.

Last week, Pollard appealed US District Judge Katherine Forrest’s decision to keep in place restrictive parole conditions that were imposed when he was released from prison in November, 2015, after serving 30 years of a life sentence for spying for Israel.

The conditions prevent Pollard from leaving his New York home after 7 p.m. and before 7 a.m., force him to submit any computer he uses for inspection, and require him to wear a GPS monitoring device that forces him to violate the Sabbath.

The court does not have the power to change the restrictions but can recommend to the parole commission that it ease or cancel them.

On the other hand, Trump could decide to commute Pollard’s sentence to time served or allow him to move to Israel and check in regularly at the American Embassy or the Israeli Justice Ministry.

Politically, now might be a unique window of opportunity for Trump to allow Pollard to move to Israel. In recent weeks, Trump has come under fire over his decision not to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move he promised to make during his campaign. Releasing Pollard would quell such criticism and gain him favor among Jewish conservative supporters.

Netanyahu also stands to gain politically if Pollard moves to Israel. The prime minister would be able to claim that it was he who convinced Trump to release the agent and that, as prime minister, he did not forget Pollard.

Netanyahu would also be able to leverage Pollard’s move to Israel as a way of quieting criticism within his coalition, which is on edge amid reports that Trump will renew his call on Israel to curb settlement construction to jump start peace talks with the Palestinians.



Israel “didn’t occupy Jerusalem fifty years ago, it liberated it,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on the eve of US President Donald Trump’s historic two-day visit to Israel.

“I want to the tell the world in a loud and clear voice: Jerusalem has always been and always will be the capital of Israel,” Netanyahu said at a celebratory event marking the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Israel’s capital city after the Six Day War.


“The Temple Mount and the Western Wall will always remain under Israeli sovereignty,” the prime minister added.

Netanyahu’s words were seen as a direct message to Trump, following Israel’s disappointment that the president appears to have no plans to announce the relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem during his two-day trip.

Instead, the subject of Jerusalem has become a divisive issue between Israel and the US, ahead of a visit designed to showcase the close ties between the steadfast allies.

Trump is the first US president to arrive in Israel so quickly after his inauguration, and he will be the first sitting president to visit the Western Wall.

Right before the ceremony, the security cabinet voted for a package of goodwill economic and development gestures to the Palestinians, including legalized building in Area C of the West Bank.

Eight ministers supported the measure, while two Bayit Yehudi ministers, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, objected to Palestinian building in Area C, fearing it means the land would not be part of Israel’s borders in a future final-status agreement.

The measures included the establishment of an industrial zone near Tarkumiya and the easing of restrictions at the Allenby Bridge border crossing.

Israel will be the second country, after Saudi Arabia, that Trump is visiting on his first foreign trip as president.

He will meet with Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Monday, and with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem on Tuesday, as part of his efforts to restart the peace process after a three-year freeze.

Netanyahu said on Sunday night that he looks forward to warmly welcoming Trump, who he called a “true friend of the State of Israel.”

He noted that US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman was in the audience, and that this was the first time that an American ambassador had come to an event celebrating the unification of Jerusalem.

Security issues, including Iran, ISIS and Syria, are expected to be high on the agenda for the Trump-Netanyahu talks. But the discourse around the visit has focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Netanyahu devoted the bulk of his speech Sunday night to the issue of Jerusalem.

“We do not need to explain our presence in Jerusalem, and we owe no one an apology for being here,” Netanyahu said, adding that attempts to sever the Jewish people from Jerusalem were “disgraceful.”

He did not mention the issue of Judea and Samaria, even though US officials have said that Trump is likely to ask him to acknowledge that Israel must restrain construction in the West Bank settlements.

Earlier in the evening, Friedman also attended a private event marking the city’s unification, where he sat at the head table flanked by Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. The latter is the father of White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. He joked that so many parliamentarians were present he wondered if it constituted a Knesset quorum.

“The city of Jerusalem can no more be divided and separated than could the baby before Solomon with the sword in his hand and people asking which side of the baby shall the mothers’ take,” Huckabee said. “Jerusalem is one city. It is the capital of one people, and this week we all celebrate that extraordinary and amazing act of God.”

Also attending the event was Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, who said, “Jerusalem is the heart of our existence. With all respect to the Start-Up Nation, we have a spiritual role. Everyone is asking are they [the US] going to relocate the embassy. We would like to see all our embassies in Jerusalem.”

Hotovely also focused on the issue of the West Bank settlements, noting that she believes Trump has a different attitude that his predecessor.

“This administration said, for the first time, that settlements are not an obstacle to peace,” said Hotovely, adding that she feels “the achievement of having a real friend in the White House” would be increased settlement building.

Hotovely spoke against the possibility of a two-state solution with the Palestinians, saying that there is a reason all past efforts have failed.

“This government believes that the people of Israel and the Palestinians can live together, but not in the paradigm of a Palestinian state,” she said. “We definitely are not going to divide Jerusalem, ever. Hopefully we will see a lot of embassies in Jerusalem this year.”

In Saudi Arabia, Trump spoke with Saudi King Salman about the peace process.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir told reporters he is optimistic about the peace process, saying, “President Trump, with a new approach and determination, can bring a conclusion to this long conflict. He certainly has the vision and we believe he has the strength and the decisiveness, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia stands prepared to work with the United States in order to bring about peace between Israelis and Palestinians and Israelis and Arabs.”

Damning with deafening praise: Why Netanyahu is unimpressed by Trump

A line is often drawn from US President Donald Trump’s election last year to Britain’s vote for Brexit, the swelling of support for far-right European politicians such as France’s Marine Le Pen, the rise of blustering politicians such as the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, and so on.

The democratic world is in the throes of a “populist surge,” goes the refrain, which could shake the foundations of the liberal world order.

It is becoming increasingly common among liberal elites focused on Israel to lump Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in with this narrative of a surging populist right.

The connection is shallow, the evidence drawn almost entirely from the news cycle: Netanyahu makes “populist” statements about Arab voters on Election Day; Netanyahu is backed by many of the same forces as Trump: the Sheldon Adelsons and Republican Jewish Congresses of the American Jewish right.

But does this convenient narrative correspond to a complex reality?

Netanyahu is not really a populist, and certainly no Trump, both because he is not actually popular even among many of his own voters, and because he does not believe that his political identity is rooted in the upending of an established political order or elite.

US President Donald Trump, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, February 15, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)

But there is a deeper divide between the two leaders, one that will become ever more apparent as Trump pushes ahead with his peace initiative in the coming months and finds that his hunger for a legacy collides with Netanyahu’s fear of what he sees as irresponsible concessions: Trump lives and thinks in the moment, in flashes of political ego and fleeting media scuffles. Netanyahu sees himself at the wavefront of a long and demanding history.

In 2013, at an event in the US Congress marking the end of then-ambassador to the US Michael Oren’s term in Washington, Netanyahu described this sensibility in stark terms (the quote is recalled in Oren’s memoir “Ally”).

“History is not just a flat chronicle of events,” Netanyahu said. “History is an understanding of the forces that work, the values that shape present action and direct the future. If you have that knowledge, you are empowered in ways that you can’t get by watching the nightly news or reading the morning editorials. We live in an ahistorical age when many people’s memories go back to breakfast, but if you’re armed with that insight you have immense power for good.”

This was no mere quip. It is Netanyahu’s defining vision of himself.

In his book “The Founding Fathers of Zionism,” the eminent historian Benzion Netanyahu, the prime minister’s late father, once identified a “conspicuous dividing line in our history – a kind of cross-section between two great epochs: Our people, which in its distant past produced many individuals who excelled at perceiving the future, transformed in its period of exile into a nation that seems to have been struck by a blindness in this respect. It is astonishing that at no period in the annals of our exile, until the beginning of our struggle for emancipation [in the 18th century], can we discern an awareness of that which is coming into being, or a prognosis of what the near-term future might bring. We did not see the coming of the greatest catastrophes (such as the expulsion from Spain) even very close to their occurrence, and therefore we always experienced them as ‘bolts from the blue.’”

Benjamin Netanyahu with his father, Professor Benzion Netanyahu, in his Jerusalem home (Photo credit: Nati Shohat/ Flash 90)

With the coming of political Zionism, the elder Netanyahu explained, Jewish leaders reclaimed for themselves the power of foresight, a process of “grasping the meaning of present-day trends, understanding their direction, significance and influence, and assessing the outcomes of their collisions one with another. Understand these processes properly and you have already seen the outlines of the future.”

It is hard to imagine a more perfect antithesis to Netanyahu’s vision of himself than the current American president

Benzion Netanyahu wrote those words in praise of his mentor, the Zionist thinker and activist Ze’ev Jabotinsky. Jabotinsky, he wrote, saw in this sort of vision “the entire essence of statesmanship.”

Netanyahu’s critics frequently deride the flowery and often tendentious historical references that pepper his speeches, with their references to exile, the Holocaust and other catastrophes. But the prime minister is a student of his father, gleaning from him a defining sense of responsibility to a deep past and a belief that the most important trends and facts in a nation’s political life are not those that find expression in the news cycle.

It is hard to imagine a more perfect antithesis to Netanyahu’s vision of himself than the current American president.

Trump does not display any sense of history. He thinks and acts like an entertainer, as hungry for the audience’s attention as the audience is for his antics. Even when the White House speaks of “legacy,” it refers to Trump’s future reputation, not to any sense of responsibility for a history older and larger than the current administration.

Much has been made of Netanyahu’s supposed joy at Trump’s election. Netanyahu is close to Republicans in his views and temperament. His own policy views are deeply informed by American ideas. A voracious reader, he is more likely to be caught in the Knesset halls carrying an English-language book than a Hebrew one — and almost always written by an American author. Yet by sheer bad luck (from his perspective), Netanyahu’s three-year term in the 1990s coincided with Bill Clinton’s presidency, and his three terms since 2009 with Barack Obama’s.

US President Barack Obama, center, speaks to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, as he sits next to President Reuven Rivlin, left, during the funeral of former president Shimon Peres on September 30, 2016, at Jerusalem's Mount Herzl national cemetery. (AFP Photo/Pool/Ronen Zvulun)

Here, then, is his chance to finally lead Israel with a pro-Israel Republican in the White House.

Or so many observers assume.

But for Netanyahu, Trump is hardly the stolid Republican propelled by the principles the Israeli leader feels he shares with the GOP. He is a wild showman. No one has yet sifted through the noise of Trump’s neverending theatrics to any bedrock of ideas that might be said to drive the American president. Perhaps there is no such bedrock, or perhaps it is there but Trump is not the sort of man who can articulate it. In any case, there is no ground floor here from which a proper theory of his intellectual world might be constructed.

In Netanyahu’s view, the small community of people who stand at the helm of human affairs is divided not between left and right so much as between the impatient ignoramus and the considered planner.

When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Netanyahu’s critique of Trump’s predecessor Obama was not, at its core, that the former president was “anti-Israel,” but that he was ignorant and egotistical. Obama was cleverer than the current president, but ultimately not wiser: demanding a painful settlement freeze in 2010 without delivering a Palestinian return to the negotiating table, playing coy with regional allies like Saudi Arabia while reaching grand bargains with sworn enemies like Iran. Driven by a preoccupation with his legacy rather than a nuanced policy vision — again, in Netanyahu’s estimation — Obama acted brashly and drove peace and regional stability further away. A wiser policy that took Palestinian political culture and its dysfunctions into account might have brought the sides closer to peace, but Obama’s sense of his own redemptive historical role drove him to blunder foolishly about and waste the goodwill and political capital he initially wielded in the region.

President Donald Trump welcomes Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to the White House in Washington, Wednesday, May 3, 2017. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Before he’s a Republican, Trump is simply Trump. His views are impossible to pin down, his temperament impossible to really predict. In Netanyahu’s view, he arrives in this region wielding an ego the size of Obama’s and an ignorance that surpasses even the laughably unsuccessful — again, to Netanyahu’s mind — fumbling of the previous president.

Both Israeli and Palestinian leaders plan to welcome Trump with pomp and circumstance, lavishing praise on the American leader and pronouncing their full-throated backing for his as-yet amorphous peace initiative. This is not a sign of trust in Trump, but of their calculation that words are more important than substance to the new administration, that this president is best handled as a reality television star rather than a hard-nosed policy challenge.

There is thus an inverse relationship between the intensity of the accolades Trump will receive and the likelihood that either leader is about to make the sort of desperate political gamble, risking his leadership and legacy, that peacemaking might entail.

Neither Netanyahu nor Abbas will risk all for a president whose essential commitment, in their view, is to his own ego and legacy, and not their long-term success.

Trump says he hasn’t ruled out Netanyahu joining him at Western Wall

US President Donald Trump, who is scheduled to visit Israel next week, has not ruled out inviting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to join him as he visits Jerusalem’s Western Wall

“We have not yet made a final decision about my visit to the Western Wall,” Trump told the Israel Hayom newspaper in an interview Thursday. “We have great respect for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the decision to have the rabbi [of the Western Wall] accompany us was primarily because that is the custom at the site. It could still change.”

Trump also told the daily that he “honestly, truly” thinks he can broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, and was non-committal on the question of moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

On Tuesday, the White House announced that Trump would not be accompanied by any Israeli officials when he visits the holy site next Tuesday.

“No Israeli leaders will join President Trump to the Western Wall,” National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster told reporters at a press briefing where he outlined Trump’s schedule for his upcoming four-stop trip to the Middle East and Europe.

The Western Wall, part of the retaining walls of the Second Temple compound, is the closest point of prayer for Jews to the site of the Temple itself and thus the Jewish people’s holiest place of prayer. It was captured along with the rest of the Old City and East Jerusalem in the 1967 war, and annexed by Israel as part of its united capital — a move not recognized internationally.

New US ambassador to Israel David Friedman kisses the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on May 15, 2017. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

The holy site has been at the center of a diplomatic spat between the US and Israel over the past week after an American diplomat told Israeli officials that the Western Wall was not part of Israel and not Israel’s responsibility.

According to a Channel 2 TV report, the tensions were sparked when a team of Israeli officials working to coordinate Trump’s visit asked their American counterparts in a meeting early last week whether Netanyahu could accompany the president when he goes to the Western Wall, a key expected stop on his May 22-23 visit. No serving US president has ever visited the Western Wall, because US policy has been that the final status of Jerusalem has yet to be resolved in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

The US officials reportedly rejected the request for Netanyahu to join the visit, saying it would be “a private visit” by the president and that he would go on his own. The Israelis then asked whether a TV crew providing live coverage of the Trump visit could at least continue to film there.

At this point, the TV report said, a senior American official, later identified as David Berns, the political counselor at the US Consulate in Jerusalem, rudely responded: “What are you talking about? It’s none of your business. It’s not even part of your responsibility. It’s not your territory. It’s part of the West Bank.”

These comments led to vociferous protests by the Israelis, with the discussion descending into shouting, and the Israelis reminding the US team that the Western Wall and adjacent area “is territory holy to Israel.”

After publication of the remarks on Monday evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office expressed shock, sought clarifications from the White House, and said it did not believe the comments reflected Trump’s views.

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during a joint press conference at the White House in Washington, DC on February 15, 2017. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

Shortly afterwards, the White House told The Times of Israel, “The comments about the Western Wall were not authorized communication and they do not represent the position of the United States and certainly not of the president.”

In the Oval Office interview with Israel Hayom, Trump repeated his belief that he would be able to achieve a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

“I think that there is a great opportunity to reach a deal [between Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas],” the president said. “I am working very hard so that finally the Israelis and Palestinians will have peace, and I hope that this can happen quicker than anyone ever imagined.”

Trump said that he believes that there is a good chance for peace because it is the right time and he has the right people negotiating a deal.

“It is a great opportunity and it is good for everyone,” he said. “This deal is good for all. We have the right people working on it, [Ambassador] David Friedman and [Middle East envoy] Jason Greenblatt.”

Trump refused to say whether the US would seek to impose a construction freeze in West Bank settlements. But he stressed that “I honestly, truly think that we can reach a deal.”

The president also remained non-committal on whether he would fulfill his campaign promise to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“There are many interesting things that we are working on,” he said. “We’ll speak about [the embassy] later.”



US President Donald Trump will repeat his opposition to settlement growth in the West Bank during his first visit to the region next week – and expects the Israeli government to acknowledge that his position has been heard, a senior White House official said on Thursday.

The president will visit Jerusalem and Bethlehem during his visit on Monday and Tuesday, meeting with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders, after attending an “Arab Islamic summit” in Riyadh over the weekend.


He will not arrive in Jerusalem – or Riyadh – proposing diplomatic frameworks or road maps of any kind for Israeli-Arab peace, the official said.

“This is not a trip in which the president comes and says, ‘Here’s my peace plan,’” the official said. “We’re not looking at something formal yet – perhaps down the road.”

And while the president hopes to eventually bring Israelis and Palestinians around the same table, the White House believes it is “too early” for those talks to begin on this trip, the official said, confirming earlier reporting in The Jerusalem Post that a trilateral summit among US, Israeli and Palestinian leaders had been put on hold.

Aides say the president has no plans ever to serve as an “arbiter of details” in future peace negotiations. But “he has expressed a general concern” with ongoing Israeli settlement activity, the official said.

“He will reiterate that,” said the official. “He has not abandoned the two-state solution.”

Trump first outlined his concerns about Israel’s settlement construction outside of existing settlement blocs in February when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited him in Washington. “Hold back a bit” on future building, Trump asked Netanyahu in front of the press.

Now, Trump expects “assurances and signals from the Israeli government that they’ve heard his views,” the senior official said.

Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, had held that settlements were a stumbling block to peace. While Trump has not expressed that position, Israel had hoped he would have a more tolerant view of settlement construction, which it believes has no bearing on the peace process.

Netanyahu on Thursday said he believed that Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jews was the stumbling block to the peace process.

“The failure to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians and achieve peace lies with the Palestinian refusal to accept the existence of the Jewish State in any borders,” Netanyahu told Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel A. González Sanz.

Heather Nauert, the Trump administration’s new spokesperson at the State Department, said that in Bethlehem Trump will “express his desire for dignity and self-determination of the Palestinian people” while meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas after visiting with Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin and Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

Trump will also offer remarks at the Israel Museum and visit Yad Vashem, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism. Administration officials have not stated whether the president believes the wall is in sovereign Israeli territory, and one official on Thursday confirmed that Trump will be accompanied only by the rabbi of the Western Wall – not by any Israeli government officials – “in keeping with the religious nature of the site.”

The official could not confirm or deny reports that Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and an Orthodox Jew, will join the president on his trip to the wall.

In Israel, the US Embassy spokeswoman told the Post that “the Western Wall is in Jerusalem.”

She spoke in reference to comments attributed to US officials working in Jerusalem that the Western Wall was in the West Bank, meaning that it was not under Israeli sovereignty.

“The reports in the press about the conversations are not accurate,” she said. “In any event, such alleged statements would not have been authorized by the White House, do not reflect the US position and certainly not the president’s position.

“All indications are US officials’ actions were in accordance with longstanding US policy on coordination for such official visits to Jerusalem.”

The sudden dispute that broke out between the US and Israel over the Western Wall was followed by reports that Trump planned to delay the execution of his pre-election pledge to relocate the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Israel had hoped that he would announce the move while in the capital.

Trump’s Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt is already in the area meeting with Israelis and Palestinians. On Thursday night, he met with King Abdullah in Jordan. Earlier he met with Netanyahu’s staff.

As a sign of support for Trump’s drive to improve the Palestinian economy, Israel’s cabinet is expected to approve on Sunday a package of economic incentives for the Palestinians.



When President Donald Trump arrives in Israel next week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will have the opportunity to make specific requests from the administration.

These are the key issues Israel is expected to bring up with the US.

1) Keep the pressure on Iran
In the coming days, we will see if Trump waives sanctions on Iran and allows Tehran to keep funding its military assistance to Bashar Assad in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon.


While Israel does not want to see Iranian funds freed up to meddle more in Syria, Lebanon and Gaza (which would seriously endanger the country’s security), it also does not want the nuclear deal to fall apart prematurely (or if it does, only due to an Iranian violation, not a US failure to meet an obligation), lest Iran be free to dash to the bomb even sooner than Israel worries it will.

In general, Israel wants to ensure that it is on the same page with the administration regarding the continued pressure that must be applied on Iran to curb the latter’s development of ballistic missiles and support of terrorism.

During a press conference last month with visiting US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman urged the administration to “place more pressure and sanctions on the Iranian regime.”

2) Stabilizing Syria and recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights
Israel has two requests regarding Syria. Firstly, it wants to ensure that its security interests are accounted for in any deal that Trump would reach with Russia aimed at ending the civil war in the country.

Specifically, Israel wants to make sure that Iran and Hezbollah will not remain in Syria at the end of the war and will not be allowed to establish a presence on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.

Israel’s second demand has to do with its control over the Golan Heights. The premier is seeking recognition from Trump for Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan, which was conquered 50 years ago during the Six Day War.

This came up during the two leaders’ meeting at the White House in February and was also reiterated last week by Intelligence Minister Israel Katz, who proposed that Jerusalem and Washington reach a five-pointed understanding on the issue of the Syrian civil war and the implications it has on Israel’s security.

3) Move the embassy to Jerusalem
This seems to be the most contentious issue in the dialogue between the two governments. On Sunday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson doused flames on the eventuality of the embassy being moved to Jerusalem, telling a US interviewer that the decision “will be informed by the parties involved in those talks – and most certainly Israel’s view – and whether Israel views it as helpful to a peace initiative or perhaps a distraction.”

Netanyahu was quick to respond, saying that by moving the embassy, Trump would actually be advancing the peace process by smashing the Palestinian fantasy that Jerusalem is not Israel’s capital.

The US president made the promise to move the embassy during his campaign and after he was elected, there were reports that an announcement would happen in the first days of his administration.

The premier is expected to use Trump’s visit next week to pressure him on the issue. The simplest way to advance would be for Trump at the end of May to not waive a Congress law from 1995 that mandates the embassy be in Jerusalem. US presidents have signed waivers to the law every six months since its passage.

4) Settlement construction and protection of Israel’s interests in potential peace talks with the Palestinians
Trump seems determined to restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians and while he will likely refrain from getting the leaders together during his trip next week, he will try to convince the sides to reengage with one another.

Israel will seek to impress upon Trump the difficulty in reaching a deal based on the Palestinian demands of 1967 lines, the right of return and Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital. Israel will also work to convince Trump of the need for a future Palestinian state to remain demilitarized.

Lastly, Netanyahu has been trying since his trip to the White House in February to reach understandings with the administration over Israeli settlement construction. Netanyahu reportedly postponed a meeting of a settlement planning committee last week until after Trump’s visit to not infuriate the president.

Netanyahu would like a green light from the president to be able to build in all of Jerusalem as well as in the settlement blocs. He fears having to agree to a new settlement freeze that could prompt Bayit Yehudi to pull out of his coalition.

5) Retain Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge in the region
Trump is expected to approve a massive sale of approximately $100 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia.

While Israel backs military support to the Saudis and other Gulf States, which are all aligned against Iran, it is in constant talks with the White House and the Pentagon about ways to ensure that it retains its QME in the region by always being the first to receive superior American weapons systems and munitions.

Israel is currently in talks with the Pentagon about how it plans to spend the $38 billion new military aid package signed at the end of Barack Obama’s presidency. The Jewish state is expected to seek permission from its biggest ally to purchase new transport helicopters, smart bombs, bunker busters, more F-35 stealth fighter jets as well as an assortment of additional weapon and intelligence systems.



Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Sunday for the controversial bill “Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People” to be legislated faster than planned.

Last week, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved the bill proposed by MK Avi Dichter (Likud) and the Knesset voted for it in a preliminary reading. At that point, the bill was supposed to be put on hold for 60 days, while the government came up with its own version to merge with Dichter’s.


However, in Sunday’s meeting of coalition party leaders, Netanyahu called to accelerate the process and waive the waiting period.

The prime minister said the Jewish nation-state bill will continue on the private legislation path, so that it can be passed into law faster, without the government bill.

Last week, Netanyahu threw strong support behind the bill, calling for “all Zionist parties” to support it.

The legislation states that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish People and includes details like the national anthem, the flag, and that Jerusalem is the capital. It also includes a controversial article stating that Hebrew is “the state’s language” and Arabic has a special status.

Netanyahu responded to critics of the bill who said it gives primacy to Jewish citizens, saying at two separate occasions that “there is no contradiction at all between this bill and equal rights for all citizens of Israel.”

On Wednesday, Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh came out against the bill, saying that “no apartheid law, racist and ultra-nationalist as it can be, will erase the fact that two nations live here.

“This extreme-right-wing government is trying to light a fire of nationalist hatred here, but I still believe that there is a majority here that wants to live in peace, equality and democracy, and that majority must get up now to fight determinedly against this dangerous government,” Odeh added.

Netanyahu assures Tillerson: Moving embassy to Jerusalem will help peace (LOL….)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said moving the US embassy to Jerusalem will boost peace efforts by impressing on the Palestinians the city is the capital of the Jewish state.

After US Secretary of State said earlier Sunday, the Trump administration was evaluating whether relocating the US mission to Jerusalem would help or harm the peace process, Netanyahu released a statement arguing the move will advance peace efforts.

“Israel’s position has been stated many times to the US government and to the world,” Netanyahu said. “Moving the US embassy to Jerusalem will not only not harm the peace process, it will advance it by correcting a historical wrong and by shattering the Palestinian fantasy that Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel.”

On Thursday, Netanyahu said that all foreign embassies in Israel should be located in Jerusalem, chief among them the American embassy.

Since taking office, US President Donald Trump has backed away from his campaign pledge to move the embassy in a gesture to Israel, saying he’s still studying the issue. But Tillerson linked Trump’s deliberations directly to his aspirations for brokering Mideast peace.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks to State Department employees, at the State Department in Washington, May 3, 2017. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

“The president is being very careful to understand how such a decision would impact the peace process,” Tillerson said in an interview broadcast Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He said Trump’s decision would be informed by feedback from all sides, including “whether Israel views it as helpful to a peace initiative or perhaps a distraction.”

Trump’s decision is being closely watched as the US president prepares to depart Friday on his first foreign trip. After stopping in Saudi Arabia, Trump will visit both Israel and the West Bank, in a nod to his nascent bid to strike the Israeli-Palestinian deal that has eluded his predecessors.

Jerusalem’s status is one of the most emotionally charged issues in the conflict, with both sides laying claims. Israel captured East Jerusalem — claimed by Palestinians for the capital of a future independent state — from Jordan in 1967 and annexed it, a move not internationally recognized.

US presidents of both parties have repeatedly waived a US law requiring the embassy be moved to Jerusalem. The most recent waiver — signed by former president Barack Obama — expires on June 1. Trump is expected to sign a six-month renewal of the waiver before it expires, as he continues deliberating.

President Donald Trump welcomes Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to the White House in Washington, Wednesday, May 3, 2017. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

In another sign the White House is proceeding cautiously, Trump’s ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, plans to work out of the current embassy in Tel Aviv rather than out of the US Consulate in Jerusalem, as some had urged him to do. Friedman, who owns an apartment in Jerusalem, is expected to live in the US ambassador’s official residence in the Tel Aviv suburb of Herziliya.

Palestinians argue that moving the embassy would prejudge one of the most sensitive issues in the conflict, undermining America’s status as an effective mediator. There have been some signs that the Israeli government, while publicly supportive of moving the embassy, has quietly raised concerns that doing so could inflame the political and security situation.

Earlier on Sunday, Education Minister Naftali Bennett urged Netanyahu to push Trump about transferring the embassy to Jerusalem. Bennett, who leads the nationalist Jewish Home party, also stated the move would help peace, saying it would help cement the unity of the city under Israeli control, whereas “any agreement based on dividing Jerusalem is doomed to fail.”



Donald Trump will arrive in Israel on May 22 as part of his first trip overseas as president. The trip has Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on edge. Here are the top five reasons why:

1) Trump is expected to ask Netanyahu to renew peace negotiations with the Palestinians and to give the talks a timeframe. Since returning to the premiership in 2009, Netanyahu has shied away from making his plan for peace public. If full-fledged peace talks start, he will be compelled to reveal his plan, including the borders he envisions for a future Palestinian state.


2) To get peace talks resumed, Trump might ask Netanyahu to make concessions even before the talks start. This could be a freeze in settlement construction or a release of prisoners as happened in 2013, the last time Netanyahu’s government was under pressure by the Obama administration to renew talks with the Palestinians. Netanyahu has stated in recent years that he will no longer agree to preconditions. Trump, he fears, might force his hand this time.

3) All of the above would spell political trouble for Netanyahu. Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett is unlikely to pull out of the coalition just because peace talks are resumed but he would likely bolt if Netanyahu decides to make concessions. Bennett has been seeking a way to distinguish himself from Netanyahu and to outflank the prime minister from the Right and declare himself the leader of Israel’s right-wing camp. The best way to do that would be by pulling out of the government over concessions to the Palestinians.

4) While the general consensus in Israel is that a peace deal with the Palestinians is unlikely, Netanyahu is afraid to be perceived as being the man responsible for its failure. After everything is over, he wants Israel to be viewed by Trump as the side that was willing to make peace and the Palestinians as the intransigent one. He will have to maneuver carefully not to upset the president who has already proven to be highly unpredictable.

5) Finally, Netanyahu fears having to face the ultimate dilemma – signing a peace deal and going down in history as the prime minister who enabled the establishment of a Palestinian state. According to some ministers in his cabinet, he really opposes the idea. But if negotiations succeed and a deal is put on the table, Netanyahu will have to make the most difficult decision of his life. That is his biggest fear.