The Israeli prime minister lavishes praise on Trump’s negotiating skills and his ‘courage.’
In his first public diplomatic foray with President Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu employed a proven strategy at softening up the freewheeling deal-maker now leading U.S. foreign policy: flattery.
Netanyahu, far more of a conventional politician than his new U.S. counterpart, defended Trump from criticism about alleged anti-Semitism. He lavished affection on Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser now tasked with overseeing the administration’s approach to the Middle East peace process. Even as he doused Trump’s prediction of a deal with his own doubt, Netanyahu explained that he was only following Trump’s own template.
“That’s ‘The Art of the Deal,’” Netanyahu joked, referencing Trump’s seminal how-to biography about his success in the real estate world.
After eight years of clashing with President Barack Obama, Netanyahu appeared eager to work with a U.S. president already far more sympathetic to his own views and willing to let Israel lead the way. In his opening remarks, Trump slammed Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, which Netanyahu vehemently opposed, as “one of the worst deals I’ve ever seen.”
When it was his turn to speak on the subject, Netanyahu piled on the praise for Trump’s approach to the Iran deal and to combating Islamic terrorism more generally.
“Mr. President, you have shown great clarity and courage in confronting the challenge head on,” he said. “Under your leadership, I believe we can reverse the rising tide of radical Islam, and in this great task, as in so many others, Israel stands with you, and I stand with you.”
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Trump’s clear indifference to the pursuit of a two-state solution, a term Netanyahu is loath to use and a concept he has endorsed in the past but more recently backed away from, marked a shift in longstanding U.S. policy and underlined Trump’s willingness to make Israel’s position on the matter his own.
“I am looking at two-state, and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like,” Trump said.
“I’m very happy with the one that both parties like,” Trump continued. “I can live with either one. I thought for a while the two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two. But honestly, if Bibi, and if the Palestinians, if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best.”
Painting with the usual broad brush, Trump portrayed himself as a more Israel-friendly president than Obama, whose administration became heavily critical of Israel’s settlement construction in the West Bank and called it an obstacle to peace.
That subject was the one area where Trump appeared to impose his own view on Netanyahu, telling the prime minster that he would “like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit” and asserted that he “would like to see a deal be made” and thinks it will. Trump’s casual tone, however, undercut any edge to his instruction, tantamount to a traffic cop urging a speeding driver to slow down but indicating that they likely won’t be writing them a ticket.
Similarly, on the subject of re-writing the Iran nuclear agreement, Trump asserted that “the Israelis are going to have to show some flexibility, which is hard.” But he softened what could have sounded like an admonition by expressing optimism that they would be open to a deal.
Trump himself, beset by allegations of anti-Semitism and having already committed several faux pas in his initial diplomatic exchanges with some world leaders, also had good reason to get off to a good start with one of America’s most important allies.
Referring to Netanyahu by his nickname, “Bibi,” Trump was showcasing a friendship that already exists, noting he and his counterpart have known each other a long time and offering him perhaps his highest compliment, calling him a “a great negotiator.”
After Trump responded to a question about an increase in anti-Semitic incidents across the U.S. since his political rise by recalling his election victory, Netanyahu went out of his way just before the press conference ended to defend the president from that specific criticism by vouching for his character.
“I have known the president, and I have known his family and his team for a long time,” Netanyahu said. “There is no greater supporter of the Jewish people and the Jewish state than President Donald Trump. I think we should put that to rest.”