Trump’s comments to an Israeli newspaper, published Friday, appeared as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with advisers to plot strategy for his first face-to-face meeting in the White House with Trump on Wednesday.
Israel considers the prime minister’s first official meeting with the American president as vitally important — a way to reset relations after a years of feuding and policy clashes with the Obama administration.
Since Trump’s inauguration, Israel’s pro-settlement government hoped Trump would give a green light to a building boom in the West Bank on land that Jewish residents believe was promised to them by God and that Palestinians want for a future state.
But those expectations might be overly optimistic.
In the interview with Israel Hayom — a widely circulated free newspaper owned by Netanyahu’s patron, the Vegas casino magnate and GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson — Trump offered new insights into his thinking on the long-running conflict between Israel and Palestinians. Adelson dined at the White House on Thursday night.
Trump suggested that he was reviewing his campaign promise to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel’s declared capital Jerusalem — a relocation that many Israelis, including the mayor of Jerusalem, thought was a done deal.
“I’m thinking about it. I’m learning the issue and we’ll see what happens,” Trump was quoted as saying in the interview, which was conducted in English and translated into Hebrew. “It’s not an easy decision. It’s been discussed for so many years. No one wants to make this decision, and I’m thinking about it seriously.”
Former U.S. diplomats, Palestinians and Arab leaders such as King Abdullah II of Jordan have warned Trump the embassy move could stoke religious passions and spark violence, as Muslims rally to defend what they see as a threat against their holy places in the heart of Jerusalem.
Trump said he wanted to explore the possibilities for making what he has called “the ultimate deal,” a peace pact between Israel and the Palestinians. He is deploying his son-in-law — and now senior adviser on the Middle East — Jared Kushner to the task.
“No deal is a good deal if it isn’t good for all sides,” Trump told the newspaper. “We are currently in a process that has been going on for a long time. Decades. A lot of people think that it can’t be done. And a lot of smart people around me claim that you can’t reach an agreement. I don’t agree. I think we can reach an agreement and that we need to reach an agreement.”