Israel News for February 16, 2017

Trump Meeting
The long awaited meeting between Netanyahu and Trump took place yesterday. What happened behind closed doors is unknown, but from the press conference held after the meeting, it seems that the leaders discussed some sort of strategy for achieving a new kind of peace agreement which would involve the participation of moderate Arab nations in the region who are all afraid of Iranian expansion.

It also seems that Trump is approaching the Middle East peace process with a very open mind — like a true negotiator. It’s still unclear what exactly his plan is, but judging by Netanyahu’s smiles and hard to contain excitement during the press conference, it seems as though the PM is totally on board with it.

One of the reasons for the excitement is undoubtedly the fact that the two-state solution is no longer the stated objective of the US administration. When asked directly whether he supported the long standing US policy of a two-state solution Trump replied, “So, I’m looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like. 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 and if the Palestinians — if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best.”

In other words, while the two-state solution is apparently no longer US policy, it isn’t off the table either. US policy is now — whatever works best to reach a peace agreement. It’s all about the negotiation. Makes sense, considering that traditional diplomacy based on preconceived notions and requirements hasn’t gotten very far.

When asked whether this new US policy goes against his own statements in which he supported the two-state solution, Netanyahu replied that he still is in favor of a two-state solution under the following 2 conditions:

1. That the Palestinians clearly and definitively accept the existence of Israel as a Jewish State.

2. That Israel maintains military control over the western bank of the Jordan river.

Even if the Palestinians would accept the first condition, which at the moment seems unlikely, especially given that Hamas rules Gaza and has growing influence in the West Bank, they will not accept the second condition as it would negate the full sovereignty of their state.

Most people believe that Netanyahu never really supported the kind of two-state solution envisioned by the Palestinians or the prior US administrations, but that he said he did in order to seem in line with the US. But that’s no longer necessary, which is probably one of the main reasons for his enthusiasm and near giddiness at the press conference.

Regarding settlements, Trump turned to Netanyahu and said, “I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit,” implying that this was necessary as part of Trump’s negotiating strategy. What holding back on settlements for a little bit really means is unclear. Does it include building in East Jerusalem, or in established settlement blocks? Trump did not condemn or criticize Israel for recently approving the construction of around 5,000 new homes in the settlements.

When asked about moving the US embassy to Jerusalem as he promised, Trump replied, “I’d love to see that happen” and, “We’ll see what happens.”

So the hawkish Right Wing elements in the Israeli government are probably not as ecstatic as they initially were when they assumed that Trump would immediately move the embassy and that he would turn a blond eye to unlimited settlement expansion and possibly even annexation. But the PM seems pleased with the direction things are going in.

Trump emphasized that Israel would have to be flexible in any future talks saying, “As with any successful negotiation, both sides will have to make compromises.” Then turning to Netanyahu, he asked, “You know that, right?” Netanyahu responded with a smile and emphasizing, “Both sides.” Trump then remarked jokingly that the PM didn’t sound too enthusiastic about that and that he was a great negotiator. Netanyahu replied, “It’s the Art of the Deal.” Smiles all around.

When asked about rising anti-semitism in America and about those “who believe and feel that your administration is playing with xenophobia and maybe racist tones,” Trump first reiterated his amazing victory in the elections and said that he would do everything in his power to stop “long-simmering racism.”

He then said, “As far as Jewish people, so many friends — a daughter who happens to be here right now, a son-in-law and three beautiful grandchildren.” He added, “You’re going to see a lot of love.” [Awesome!]

Netanyahu praised Trump for taking a tough stance on Iranian violations of the Iran nuclear agreement (which Trump made sure to emphasize that it was the worst deal that he had ever seen) as well as hailing him as the greatest friend that Israel has ever had. Trump also praised Netanyahu as well as the PM’s wife Sarah, whom he thanked for her friendliness towards Melania and asked to stand for applause during the press conference.

Regarding the potential for a peace agreement Trump said, “I think we’re going to make a deal,” adding, “It might be a bigger and better deal than people in this room even understand.” Let’s hope and pray.

PA President Abbas, the UN Secretary General, some left wink Israeli Knesset members, many liberal Jewish groups and others voiced their continued support of a two-state solution as the only path towards peace.

To watch the entire press conference click here.