President Trump‘s erratic style and 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 free-wheeling approach to diplomacy and a new cast of unlikely, untested advisors, including Trump’s son-in-law and two of Trump’s long-time 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 M. Friedman, Trump’s former bankruptcy lawyer, scrambled this 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 that 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.
Earlier this month, Israeli officials needed reassurance as well 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 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 advisors. Even Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who has been managing the White House’s relationship with Israel over the past few months, has generated some skepticism among hard-liners, despite the fact the he is Jewish, he has known Netanyahu for many years and his family has helped…