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US-Israel relations: Is Trump backing down?

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Netanyahu hopes for achievements relating to both the Palestinians and Iran, say analysts

Netanyahu Meets With Trump
Netanyahu Meets With Trump
(Image by israelifrontline.com)
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is due to meet US President Donald Trump on Wednesday with the aim of winning major concessions on the two issues highest on his agenda, Iran and the Palestinians, say analysts.

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It will be the two men's first face-to-face meeting since Trump's inauguration as president last month. The discussions are expected to set the tone of the US administration's policy towards Israel and the Middle East over the next four years.

Trump's unequivocal backing for Israel during his presidential run generated great excitement on the Israeli right, and was seen as promising a decisive break from the clashes that marked relations with his predecessor, Barack Obama.

Hopes were heightened further by Trump's choice of David Friedman, an outspoken supporter of the settlements, as US ambassador to Israel.

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But in recent days Trump has appeared to backtrack on key campaign promises. That was especially evident in an interview published at the weekend in the Israel Hayom newspaper, widely seen as a cheerleader for Netanyahu.

Trump described settlement construction as "unhelpful" and urged Israel to "act reasonably." He added: "Every time you take land for a settlement, less territory remains."

Clash with reality

In recent weeks Israel has announced thousands of new homes in the occupied territories, as well as a decision to build the first new settlement in more than two decades. The parliament, meanwhile, has passed the Regulation Law, which retroactively sanctions a massive land grab by the settlers.

In the interview, Trump appeared to pour cold water on his pledge to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, which it is widely feared could inflame the region.

Menachem Klein, a political scientist at Bar Ilan University, near Tel Aviv, said Trump's new-found caution was the result of recent talks with Arab leaders. "Trump has finally banged up against reality in the Middle East," he told Al Jazeera. "He understands that there is a wider picture he has to take account of."

In response, Netanyahu has tried to lower expectations among his more extreme ministers. Settler leader Naftali Bennett, the education minister, has demanded that Netanyahu refuse to discuss Palestinian statehood with Trump. He has also pushed for Israel to start annexing the biggest settlements.

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But at a meeting of the security cabinet on Sunday, Netanyahu reportedly warned that Trump was determined to revive peace talks with the Palestinians. In comments that were leaked in Haaretz, he said: "Trump believes in a deal ... We have to make every effort to avoid a confrontation with him."

Netanyahu needs "prize"

Yaron Ezrahi, a politics professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said Netanyahu would play a shell game on the Palestinian issue to buy time.

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Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the 2011 winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: (more...)

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