The odd Trump-Netanyahu meeting

Both are embroiled in investigations and both face tumultuous political environments.

US President Donald Trump meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York, US, September 18, 2017. (photo credit: REUTERS)
US President Donald Trump meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York, US, September 18, 2017.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Numerous meetings between leaders, packed one after the other in half-hour intervals during the UN General Assembly’s opening days, are not the best opportunities for serious solutions to serious problems and crises. Given the personal and political situations of both US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, their meeting further loses significance.
Both are embroiled in investigations and both face tumultuous political environments.
Netanyahu can find some consolation in the fact that he does not have to deal with the devastation caused by nature.
The US president is besieged not only by domestic problems but by external ones too, on almost all fronts. North Korea poses an immediate challenge to the US and its allies in the Pacific and indeed to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation regime. Related to this issue are relations with China, which holds the key to a nonviolent solution to the Korean crisis but has its own approach to the problem and will not dance to Washington’s tune.
Relations with Russia have deteriorated to mutual expulsions of diplomats.
America’s neighbors, Canada and Mexico, are leery about the US president’s adherence to the North American free trade treaty, and its European allies are no less apprehensive about its commitment to NATO.
The three major issues, the Iran nuclear project, the situation in Syria and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which concern Israel are therefore not necessarily on the priority list of the US president.
The US administration has already indicated it is not going to pull out of the 2015 deal with Iran, and it is even in Israel’s long-term interest that the US stay within the group that reached the agreement with Iran, jointly monitor Iran’s compliance, and with the other members of the P5+1 work on the extension of the deal to avoid a situation whereby Iran tries to resume its nuclear activities at the end of the period prescribed in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Therefore, an Israeli request – if indeed Netanyahu makes one – that the US pull out of the Iran deal is not likely to be met.
The discussion about Israel’s long term interests is more important but raises the question of how relevant the US will be in determining Syria’s political future. Indications from Washington lead to an assessment that not much effort is to be spent by the US on this issue; Israel’s long-term interests in Syria might be better served by a strategic dialogue with Moscow.
The efforts by the US in reviving the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are a permanent item in any conversation between the US president and Israeli prime minister. The odds that this meeting between them, and the subsequent meeting between the president and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, will produce progress are negligible.
However, the effort by the US president and administration is important in keeping the negotiations option alive, in preventing an outburst of violence and in persuading the Palestinians to avoid unilateral initiatives either in an effort to denounce and isolate Israel wherever it is possible or in the attempt to acquire recognition as a state in as many international fora as possible.
This is one area where US pressure has already slowed Palestinian efforts, though it is clear that the US success has been largely linked to the request to both sides to give negotiations a chance. How much of that chance exists when political parties in Israel publish annexation-based solution ideas on the one hand, while Hamas and Fatah hold reconciliation talks on the other, is a question.
Meeting the president of the US is always a good reason and opportunity for the prime minister to travel to New York, especially when more meetings with other leaders are lined up and the prime minister delivers Israel’s message to the world. The meeting however with the US president is not likely to produce significant and memorable results.
The author is a veteran Israeli diplomat who served twice in the Israeli embassy in Washington and is currently a senior researcher in the Institute for National Security Studies.