President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met at the White House on Monday. It was their fifth meeting since President Trump took office. Both men exclaimed that the relationship between the United States and Israel has never been closer.
The president immediately made some news by declaring that he might visit Israel in May for the opening of a new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. "We're going to have it built very quickly," President Trump said. "We're looking at coming. If I can, I will." The prime minister in turn praised President Trump for his bold decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, comparing him to leaders in the past who have helped the Jewish people to return to their historic homeland, and to President Harry Truman who quickly recognized the Jewish state of Israel after it declared its independence. Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “We remember how a few weeks ago President Donald J. Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Mr. President, this will be remembered by our people through the ages. As you just said, others talked about it. You did it.”
Needless to say, the Palestinians had the opposite reaction to President Trump’s Jerusalem decision. Nevertheless, President Trump expressed the belief that the Palestinians want to return to the negotiating table “very badly.” When asked what would happen if the Palestinians did not come back to the negotiating table, President Trump warned that "if they don't come back there won't be peace.”
Less than one-fourth of his meeting with President Trump was devoted to the Palestinian issue, according to Prime Minister Netanyahu, who briefed reporters afterwards. “The issue of the Palestinians came up in the terms I described — the security question,” the prime minister said. “Not more than quarter of the time [we discussed] the Palestinians.” He would not commit explicitly to supporting the creation of an independent Palestinian state, but said that the Palestinians “should have the power of government, except the power to threaten us.” Security is his number one priority. “We have no desire to govern the Palestinians, but we have every desire to control [security],” the prime minister said. “It’s impossible to protect ourselves without militarily controlling the territory west of the Jordan river. You leave an area and it is immediately grabbed by the terror elements.”
There is no scheduled release date for the Israeli-Palestinian peace plan that the Trump administration is said to be working on, led by the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner who attended the meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu. The London-based Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat claimed last week, in an unconfirmed report said to be based on “knowledgeable Arab diplomatic sources,” that elements of the draft plan include recognizing East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital but placing the Old City of Jerusalem under “international protection.” The Palestinians would be required to give up their demand for the so-called “right of return” for Palestinian refugees and their descendants to their former homes inside the borders of pre-1967 Israel. The draft plan would also leave some large settlements in place, while expanding Palestinian security and administrative authorities in areas A and B of the West Bank. It would call for gathering up $40 billion of funding in support of a Palestinian state and its government institutions. Some European Union countries, according to the Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki, were said to be seeking some changes in the proposed plan before it is officially released. No doubt, the changes would be in the Palestinians' favor.
It is not known to what extent President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu discussed any of the ideas the Trump administration has been developing as part of its peace plan or any concessions that Israel might be asked to make, including on settlements. Prime Minister Netanyahu told reporters after the meeting that he was not shown the plan. In any case, as the prime minister also told reporters, Israel must maintain sufficient control of security in the West Bank to prevent the emergence of a terrorist safe haven, as occurred in Gaza following Israel’s unilateral withdrawal in 2005.
The proposal to leave the Old City under “international protection,” whatever that means, is not likely to sit well with Israel. As Morton Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America, pointed out, “The last time ‘internationalizing’ Jerusalem was proposed in 1947, as part of the UN partition plan, Arabs seized the Old City and the rest of eastern Jerusalem.” More recently, under the noses of the United Nations Interim Force In Lebanon, Hezbollah has, thanks to Iran, built up a sophisticated rocket arsenal of as many as 150,000 rockets. International “guarantees” are worthless, in the Middle East especially. Finally, giving the Palestinians $40 billion without very tight, enforceable conditions would lead to a repeat of the windfall the Iranian regime received in conjunction with the disastrous nuclear deal and has been able to use to fund Hezbollah and other terrorist proxies.
Prime Minister Netanyahu called Iran “the central issue” in achieving peace and stability in the region, in particular Iran’s nuclear program and its moves to establish a permanent presence in Syria. The prime minister said that President Trump was “very interested in my advice and insights,” a refreshing contrast to former President Obama who gave Prime Minister Netanyahu the cold shoulder and the Iranian regime everything it asked for.