U.S. President Donald Trump is set to visit Israel on May 22, a senior Israeli official told Haaretz. The official said that the White House had confirmed the visit with the Prime Minister’s Bureau in Jerusalem. Trump said during a ceremony at the White House on Wednesday that on his first trip abroad as president he will be visiting Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Vatican in Rome. On Thursday morning, the Foreign Ministry held a meeting ahead of Trump’s visit. A senior official who took part in meeting said that as far as Israel is aware, Trump is also planning on visiting the Palestinian Authority during his stay, and is set to travel to Bethlehem, where he will meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and will likely visit the Church of the Nativity in the city.”
Peter Beinart argues, “Since January, the Israeli government has authorized roughly 6,000 new homes in West Bank settlements — further eroding the prospects for a Palestinian state — yet the Trump administration has uttered barely a word of protest. When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Washington in February, Trump said he didn’t much care whether the Palestinians got their own state or not…..At the end of the day, it’s all a masquerade. Ultimately, Abbas can’t sign a deal that leaves the Palestinians with far less than a state. Even if he did, his people wouldn’t accept it. And since it’s highly unlikely that Trump will pick a real fight with Netanyahu, Trump’s advisers will eventually realize that this is one real estate deal they can’t close. But by then, Trump’s ego will have likely moved onto other things. The most enduring result of all this will be the public abandonment, by an American president, of the two-state model. Chalk up another win for the Israeli government and the American Jewish establishment, and a profound, perhaps existential, loss, for the dream of a democratic Jewish state.”
Barak Ravid observes, “Trump’s conduct on the Israeli-Palestinian issue in the 110 days since he assumed office indicates that he isn’t reinventing the wheel, isn’t changing the rules of the game and is trying to advance the peace process the same way, using the same means, and especially with the same enthusiasm as his predecessors. Trump’s peace initiative, whose details are still vague, looks like another round of direct bilateral talks with American mediation in an effort to achieve a permanent arrangement to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Even talk of a regional peace initiative looks at this point to be an inflated description of external support by the Arab states for the negotiations, the same support that Clinton, Bush and Obama tried to get but didn’t really succeed….The difference, at least at this point, is the size of the club that the Israeli prime minister and the Palestinian president believe the U.S. president has under his desk in the Oval Office. Both Netanyahu and Abbas are intimidated, and Trump well knows this. It could be that this intimidation could open a window of opportunity for him to bring about a breakthrough where his predecessors failed.”
The Trump administration has chosen Kris Bauman, an Air Force colonel and expert on the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, to replace Yael Lempert as the National Security Council’s point man for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Bauman was involved in the last round of peace negotiations, which took place under former President Barack Obama from 2013 to 2014, and has been researching the subject for years, most recently at the National Defense University in Washington. Bauman’s presence at the NSC could indicate that the administration will soon turn its attention to security related questions as part of Trump’s attempt to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. Bauman now works under the Defense Department and his formal move to the White House is being finalized these days.
In contrast to assertions made by Israel, Palestinian President Abbas and President Trump did discuss the core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at their White House meeting, a senior Palestinian official told Haaretz on Thursday. The Palestinian delegation to Washington expressed cautious optimism about Wednesday’s meeting between the two leaders. The senior said that the core issues of the conflict of borders, settlements and Jerusalem were all touched upon during the meeting, and not just the issue of salaries awarded by the Palestinian Authority to those who carry out terrorist attacks against Israelis, or the controversial content of Palestinian school textbooks that have been characterized as inciting.
President Donald Trump deleted a tweet in which he said it was an “an honor” to host Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House a day after the two leaders met. The tweet, which also included video from the two leaders’ meeting, was gone on Thursday, 13 hours after it was originally posted, according to ProPublica, which tracks the president’s deleted tweets.
Israeli forces demolished three buildings in the southernWest Bank village of al-Walaja on Thursday, local sources said, days before a court hearing in which the homeowners hoped to appeal the decision.
The annual combined budget for Israel’s Shin Bet security service and the Mossad espionage agency will be 8.6 billion shekels ($2.4 billion) in 2018, double what the two intelligence entities received 12 years ago and 10 percent more than this year’s budget of 7.8 billion shekels. In 2016, the combined funding for the two agencies was 7.5 billion shekels.
Chemi Shalev observes, “The new but not-so-secret weapon of Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian leadership is flattery. Pure, unadulterated, unrestrained, unvarnished blarney. Whether this is a result of psychological profiling and detailed staff work or simply the gut instincts of experienced old hands, the Palestinians have come to the conclusion that the way to win Donald Trump’s heart is to sing his praises as if there’s no tomorrow, with hardly a thought about the lack of any connection between their adulation and reality….Abbas is feeding Trump’s oversized ego and fueling his burning ambition to go where no president has gone before, to confound all the experts, analysts and purveyors of fake news who claim that Israeli-Palestinian peace is unachievable.”
Why Trump-Abbas meeting has rattled Netanyahu, Al-Monitor
Akiva Eldar writes, “In this zero-sum game over Trump’s heart and mind between Abbas, who seeks to break through the diplomatic stalemate, and Netanyahu, who would rather perpetuate it, the Palestinian had the upper hand this week. Until the next round.”
Trump Just Got Palestinians’ Hopes Up, The Atlantic
Hussein Ibish writes, “The party was definitely bracing—a real tonic for the Palestinian leadership, and especially for Abbas. But the walk home may be brutal. The coming months will leave Palestinians and others on the ground asking what has, or can be, achieved to make their lives better and, above all, bring them closer to independence. For all the good will from Trump, the resuscitation of the Palestinian issue on the American and international agenda, and the clear political benefits for Abbas and his allies among the Palestinians and in the region, the only paths forward are narrow, rocky, and exceptionally steep.”
Hamas defies charter, recognizes 1967 borders, Al-Monitor
Shlomi Eldar writes, “Hamas understands that Israel and the Palestinians (through the West Bank PLO leadership) may soon restart their negotiations, and its radical stance could isolate it and threaten its ability to rule the Gaza Strip and cope with its dire economic problems. The sanctions imposed by Abbas on Gaza last month and his plan to dissociate from the enclave are putting the screws to Hamas. And yet, Meshaal’s initiative is still something of an illusion. Hamas’ power is at one of the lowest ebbs in its history, and its diplomatic proposal comes from weakness and deep concern for its future. The movement’s leaders may believe that this is a dramatic change in their stance, but given their current situation, no Israeli leader will accept recognition of the 1967 borders unless Hamas spells out recognition of Israel and pledges an end to the armed conflict against it. Hamas’ leaders are trying hard to find the middle ground between an unyielding charter and a changing reality, but if they aspire to a viable future, they need to try much harder.”