Published: Tue, May 23, 2017
Worldwide | By Gretchen Simon

Trip to Test Trump's Ambition for Middle East Peace


President Donald Trump is wasting no time trying to succeed where his predecessors have failed.

On Tuesday, Trump is scheduled to visit Abbas for an hour in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, which lies a few kilometers south of Jerusalem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Mr. Trump, encouraged by a thaw in relations between Israel and Gulf Arab states led by Saudi Arabia, plans to explore a solution that is based on cooperation between Israel and Arab countries.

"Most people think that the campaign promise to move the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has at a minimum been put on the back burner for now", said Michele Dunne, director of the Middle East program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

In addition to sending Friedman to Tel Aviv, Trump tapped his former real-estate attorney Jason Greenblatt to help manage the peace process with the Palestinians.

Sources close to Bennett said in response that he "was elected to protect the interests of Israel, not those of the White House".

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered a stepping-up of welcome overtures to President Donald Trump, scheduled to arrive in Israel for his first state visit on Monday afternoon.

The Netanyahu government is also playing down a diplomatic tiff over whether and how Trump would visit religious sites.

Comments like that have many observers concluding that Trump, a businessman who sees himself as a dealmaker but has little experience in worldwide diplomacy, is simply naïve. Yet Trump may still need to engage in some delicate diplomacy following revelations that he disclosed highly classified intelligence Israel obtained about the Islamic State group with top Russian officials, without Israel's permission.

Trump has also ruffled feathers by planning a relatively short stop at Israel's Holocaust memorial, a ritual for every American official on their first official visit to the country, former US peace negotiator Martin Indyk noted on Twitter. However, the ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said the same day that she sees it as Israeli.

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He is expected to become the first sitting USA president to visit the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray and located in east Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in 1967 and later annexed.

Unfortunately, Trump's decision is not a surprise.

"We're having very good discussions with all parties and as long as we see that happening, we don't intend to do anything that we think could upset those discussions", the official said.

In February, Netanyahu asked Trump to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

Regarding Israeli concerns about possible construction restrictions beyond the Green Line that might be imposed as part of future negotiations, said Trump: "I do not want to comment, beside the fact that I really believe that we can achieve a deal here".

"This is President Trump's first visit outside the USA, and the honor is ours that he has chosen to come to Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, and - of course - to the State of Israel", Netanyahu said in Sunday's cabinet meeting.

The last round of peace talks, led by then-President Barack Obama and his secretary of state, John Kerry, fell apart in 2014. Among those on hand were Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the House minority whip. That option has been exercised by the White House every six months for two decades.

"The issue over many years has not been the mediator in the middle - it's the guys sitting on the other sides of the mediators", said Miller, now a vice president at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Both Trump and Friedman have said that they do not consider settlement construction to be an obstacle to peace.

Jewish Israelis do not think Trump has turned against them, however. But putting the embassy west of the Green Line, in an area of Jerusalem that Israel has controlled since 1948 and that only the history-denying U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and opponents of Israel's existence refuse to acknowledge as part of Israel, would not eliminate the possibility of a Palestinian government presence in Jerusalem.

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