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Bibi and Donald

Author: Elliott Abrams, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
February 13, 2017
Weekly Standard

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This week, Israel's prime minister will visit Washington and meet with our new president. They will have a complex agenda.

Benjamin Netanyahu has had little luck before now with American presidents. During his first term in power, June 1996 to July 1999, the Clinton Administration intervened in Israeli politics to help Ehud Barak defeat and eject him. When Netanyahu returned to power in March 2009, he faced Barack Obama—whose preference for the Israeli left and "peace movement" was as obvious as his personal distaste for Netanyahu. So Donald Trump represents something entirely new for Netanyahu: an American president who is sympathetic and supportive.

Will the visit have an effect on American policy toward Israeli settlements and the so-called "peace process?" During his campaign, Trump was vocally pro-Israel. Soon after being elected he named a well-known lawyer, David Friedman, as his new ambassador to Israel, and it was reported that Friedman, Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Trump's in-house lawyer Jason Greenblatt would form a triumvirate charged with making policy toward the Jewish State. All three men are Orthodox Jews, and Friedman and Kushner have been supporters of settlements in the West Bank. While none of them has diplomatic experience, they get along very well and taken together constitute a very powerful agglomeration of brain power and of influence with Trump. On several occasions Trump has evinced a desire to get an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement, and he has publicly assigned the task to Kushner. He told The Wall Street Journal shortly after the election that an Israeli-Palestinian agreement is "the ultimate deal. As a deal maker, I'd like to do…the deal that can't be made." So the Trump objective is the one that has eluded Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.

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