NEW YORK – US President Donald Trump reiterated his commitment on Monday to reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, saying before his meeting here with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that “I think that there is a good chance that it could happen.”
Tellingly, Trump spoke only about the Palestinians during his very brief words of greeting to Netanyahu at New York’s Palace Hotel, and did not mention the Iranian situation – the issue which Netanyahu wants to focus on.
“I really believe peace between the Palestinians and Israel would be a fantastic achievement,” the American president said. “We are giving it an absolute go. I think there is a good chance it could happen; most people would say there is no chance whatsoever. I actually think that with the ability of Bibi, and frankly with the other side, I really think we have a chance.”
Asked at the end of the photo opportunity whether he wants to see a one-state or two-state solution, Trump said only, “We are talking about it a lot.”
His only reference to Iran came when a reporter shouted out a question about his administration’s policy on the 2015 nuclear deal, and he said it would become clear “very soon.”
Netanyahu opened his remarks saying that under Trump’s leadership the alliance between Israel and the US “has never been stronger, never been deeper.” This is the case “in ways people see, and in ways they don’t see,” he added.
The prime minister said he wanted to discuss with Trump “what you rightly call the ‘terrible nuclear deal with Iran,’” as well as “how to roll back Iran’s growing aggression in the region, especially in Syria.”
In a briefing with reporters afterward, Netanyahu said that the Iranian issue was dealt with in depth, and that both Jerusalem and Washington see the issue from a similar vantage point.
This, he said, was in contrast to the situation under President Barack Obama, who saw Iran as a solution to the problems in the Middle East. Trump, he said, sees Iran as the problem.
Netanyahu said that he senses a change in the American system regarding Iran, and that this is also influencing the international community.
“The Americans have a desire to fix the agreement, and I offered a plan on how to do it,” he said, without going into detail.
Netanyahu said he expressed his position as “clearly as possible,” that if the agreement is not changed, “it will lead to the nuclearization of Iran.”
Israeli officials said before the meeting that Netanyahu would give Trump concrete ideas on how to either change or scrap the nuclear accord.
Regarding the diplomatic process with the Palestinians, Netanyahu said, “We will discuss the way to seize the opportunities for peace between Israel and the Palestinians and between Israel and the Arab world.”
He also praised Trump for America’s strong support for Israel at the UN, which both leaders will be addressing on Tuesday.
“I want to say that under President Trump, America’s position toward Israel [at the UN] has been unequivocal, has been strong, it has both clarity and conviction,” Netanyahu said. “And I want to thank you on behalf of Israel and Israel’s many friends around the world.”
Netanyahu made almost no public reference to the diplomatic process with the Palestinians during his tour last week of Latin America, focusing his public comments instead on Iran and economic issues.
Before entering his meeting with Netanyahu, Trump chose to highlight his hope for peace on his favored social media platform.
“Peace in the Middle East would be a truly great legacy for ALL people!” the president wrote on Twitter.
The Netanyahu-Trump meeting took place at a hotel in midtown Manhattan where both the President of Egypt Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev were staying. Though Netanyahu did not meet with them, Malcolm Hoenlein, the head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, did.
Netanyahu, in preparation for his meeting with Trump, met on Sunday evening in his hotel with Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser, Jared Kushner, Mideast negotiator Jason Greenblatt, and Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.
Greenblatt took part in a committee meeting focused on improving the Palestinian economy, which he on Twitter cast as a productive session.
“It was a pleasure to see Minister Shukri Bishara,” Greenblatt wrote, posting a photo with the holder of the Palestinian Authority’s Finance and Planning portfolios.
“We had a good discussion about spurring economic growth.”
Following the meeting with Trump, Netanyahu had meetings scheduled later on Monday with the President of Panama Juan Carlos Varela, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
On Tuesday before his address to the UN, Netanyahu will meet with Brazilian President Michel Temer. The meeting with Temer will be Netanyahu’s sixth with a Latin American leader in a week, following his meetings with the presidents of Argentina, Paraguay, Colombia, Mexico and Panama.Michael Wilner contributed to this report.
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