Saudi Arabia has a “very positive” feeling toward Israel, US President Donald Trump said in Jerusalem on Monday, indicating in various public statements that this will be a key ingredient in his new efforts to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
“I just left Saudi Arabia,” Trump said in public comments with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the King David Hotel, at the second of their three meetings on Monday.
“We had an amazing two days, and their feeling towards Israel is really very positive.”
One small sign of that progress was Trump flying directly from Riyadh to Tel Aviv, in what is widely believed to be the first public flight between the two cities.
After two days of talks in Saudi Arabia with Saudi King Salman and other Arab and Muslim leaders, Trump said that “tremendous progress has been made” in relations between Israel and the Saudis.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Trump said that he could see a “much deeper path to friendship with Israel” among those countries, and that Iran has been the catalyst.
Later in the evening, in public statements delivered at the Prime Minister’s Residence before the two men dined together with their wives, Trump expanded on the Saudi angle. Salman, said Trump, “really wants to see great things happen for the world,” and he and other leaders he met voiced grave concerns over Islamic State and Iran’s “rising ambitions.”
Trump said he was confident that the cooperation that Saudi Arabia pledged to fight “the menace of extremism in the Muslim world” will lead to a new level of partnership that will spill over into a renewed effort at peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Trump praised Netanyahu for “his commitment to pursuing the peace process,” noting that the prime minister was “working very hard at it.”
“It’s not easy,” he said. “I’ve heard it’s one of the toughest deals of all, but I have a feeling that we’re going to get there eventually, I hope.”
Trump, who arrived with a massive delegation that included Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, his daughter Ivanka, and his Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt, made brief public statements when he landed just after noon, at both late meetings with Netanyahu, and following a meeting with President Reuven Rivlin. In none of those statements did he once mention a two-state solution as the way to get to a peace deal.
The US president is scheduled to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem on Wednesday. He is also expected to lay a wreath at Yad Vashem and expand on his vision for moving toward peace at a speech to be given at the Israel Museum.
Trump said he expected during his stay in Israel to have “productive discussions” about the diplomatic process with Netanyahu, “and we’re going to have very productive discussions, in my opinion, with the leaders of other nations also.
And I feel strongly about that, because there’s a lot of love out there. And people from all nations, even nations that you would be surprised to hear, they want to stop the killing. They’ve had enough.”
Netanyahu picked up Trump’s theme about progress with Saudi Arabia, saying that “common dangers are turning former enemies into partners. And that’s where we see something new and potentially something very promising. 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.
“The Arab leaders who you met yesterday [in Saudi Arabia] could help change the atmosphere, and they could help create the conditions for a realistic peace. These are all great signs on your historic visit.”
Netanyahu also praised Trump for the change he has brought about in America’s policy toward Iran, something the US president touched upon several times throughout the day.
After meeting Rivlin, Trump broke new ground on Iran, saying that not only must it never be able to possess a nuclear weapon – something he spoke out against forcefully throughout the day – but that Tehran must “cease its deadly funding, training and equipping of terrorists and militias, and must cease it immediately.”
Later in the day he added, “No matter where we go – whether it’s Syria, where we were really forced to shoot the 59 missiles a few weeks ago – no matter what area we’re in – we see Yemen, Iraq – no matter where we are, we see the signs, every sign, whether it’s soldiers, whether it’s money and guns, it’s Iran.
And instead of saying thank you to the United States, they now feel emboldened. Maybe they figure the deal was so good, we can do it every time. They can’t do it. Believe me. But it was a terrible, terrible thing for the United States to enter that deal, and believe me, Iran will never have a nuclear weapon, that I can tell you.”
Netanyahu also thanked Trump for visiting the Western Wall, the first sitting American president to do so, a move – coming as it did just a day before Israel celebrates 50 years to the reunification of the city – that was full of symbolism.