Israeli officials are trying to attune themselves to President Donald Trump’s freewheeling approach to diplomacy and a new cast of unlikely, untested advisers.
President Donald Trump’s thirst for what he has called “the ultimate deal” has some Israeli officials anxious about how much he might give away if he can restart long-stalled peace talks with Palestinians.
As they await his arrival Monday in Jerusalem, Israeli officials are trying to attune themselves to Trump’s freewheeling approach to diplomacy and a new cast of unlikely, untested advisers, including Trump’s son-in-law and two of Trump’s longtime personal attorneys.
They worry in part because since taking office, Trump has hesitated on his campaign pledge to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. White House officials fear such a relocation would infuriate Palestinians, who also claim the city as their capital.
Trump’s visit comes a week before he must sign the same national-security waiver that his predecessors have signed every six months since 1995 to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv.
Newly arrived U.S. Ambassador David Friedman, Trump’s former bankruptcy lawyer, scrambled last week to reassure Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government that Trump remains as firmly committed to Israel as ever.
But Friedman told the Israelis that Trump isn’t expected to announce a decision about the move during the trip.
The delay has frustrated right-wing politicians in Israel who fear Trump may back down on other promises.
In February, Trump issued mild criticism of Israel’s continued building of settlements in the West Bank, saying new construction doesn’t help the peace process. The rebuke surprised Netanyahu’s government, which had just announced plans to build thousands of new homes in the disputed territory.
This month, Israeli officials also needed reassurance when Trump welcomed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for a lunch at the White House and posed with him in front of a Palestinian flag, a symbolic concession to Abbas that White House officials hoped would help foster a good working relationship.
Trump is expected to visit Abbas in Bethlehem on Tuesday, even though some in the Israeli government had hoped Trump would snub the Palestinian leader during the trip.
“The uncertainty is very high,” said a former Israeli diplomat who was stationed in the United States.
It also didn’t help when Trump last week shared classified material about Islamic State group militants with Russian diplomats. The information reportedly originated with Israeli intelligence and was shared with the U.S. on the condition that it not be passed along to others, according to media reports.
Israeli officials know little of the intentions of Trump’s advisers. Even Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who has been managing the administration’s relationship with Israel over the past few months, has generated some skepticism among hard-liners, despite the fact the he is Jewish, has known Netanyahu for many years and his family has helped fund Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Kushner also manages the administration relationship with Saudi Arabia and the Arab world.
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. He regularly hears advice on Israel from friends, including New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who is close to Netanyahu.
Israelis will closely watch the signals Trump sends during his two-day visit, which will include a tour of the Holocaust memorial at Yad Vashem, a speech at the Israel Museum and the first visit by a sitting U.S. president to the Western Wall, one of Judaism’s holiest sites.
During official preparations for Trump’s visit to the wall in the Old City, a U.S. diplomat inflamed Israeli officials by reportedly saying the revered structure is in disputed territory and doesn’t belong to Israel. Although Israel annexed the Old City along with all of east Jerusalem after the 1967 Six-Day War, Palestinians and most of the international community consider it part of the occupied West Bank.
Trump is singularly fixated on delivering a Middle East peace deal, administration officials said, even if that means jettisoning the long-standing U.S. stance that any resolution should be based on a two-state solution. Others in his administration, including Nikki Haley, the ambassador to the United Nations, have said the U.S. remains committed to a two-state solution.
Trump’s willingness to consider other solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate has sent State Department diplomats to the history books, dusting off decades-old alternatives to a two-state solution, such as Jordanian rule, confederacy and economic autonomy.