Ex-Israeli Envoys to Washington: Iran to Top Agenda at First Trump-Netanyahu White House Meeting
President Donald Trump with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York City in September 2016. Photo: Kobi Gideon / GPO.
Iran will be at the top of the agenda when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with US President Donald Trump at the White House on Wednesday, two former Israeli ambassadors to the US told The Algemeiner on Tuesday.
“There are three Iran-related issues,” Michael Oren — currently the deputy minister for diplomacy in the Prime Minister’s Office and a Kulanu party MK — said. “The first is the conventional military threat Iran poses to Israel from Syria and Lebanon, as well as its threat to countries around us like Jordan and the Gulf states. Second, a connection must be made between Iran’s horrible behavior and the nuclear issue. [Former US President Barack] Obama separated the two, we need to link them again. You can’t have a country that’s the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism and calls daily for our destruction and there’s no repercussions. And third, we need to start preparing for when the nuclear deal expires and we’re going to have an Iranian regime that’s going to be able to make 200 nuclear bombs real quick.”
Oren, who served as the Jewish state’s envoy to Washington for four years between 2009 and 2013, said that first meetings between US presidents and Israeli prime ministers are “very important.”
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“You establish a rapport, you get a sense of one another’s mettles and you get a better sense of one another’s worldview,” he said. “Obama’s first meeting with Bibi [Netanyahu] was horrible. He threatened him.”
Danny Ayalon — who represented Israel in the US from 2002 until 2006 and later had a four-year stint as deputy foreign minister — told The Algemeiner on Tuesday that the most vital task for Trump and Netanyahu would be to “establish relations which are based on mutual trust and mutual respect, which there was a lack of during the eight years of Obama.”
“I think the two leaders need to show closeness,” Ayalon continued. “Netanyahu is under a lot of fire at home. His interest is to show that he’s the best-qualified [Israeli politician] to strengthen relations with the US. And I think for Trump it’s also in his interest to show that he is very proficient, or suave, in international relations. We saw it with Justin Trudeau of Canada and Shinzo Abe of Japan, and we will continue to see it with Netanyahu.”
On Iran, Ayalon — who is currently in New York City as part of his role as the Rennert visiting professor at Yeshiva University — said, “I think here it is not realistic to expect the US to walk away from the Vienna deal [the July 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action]. However, I believe the two leaders probably will discuss how to tighten the monitoring of Iran and also have no tolerance for any breaches of the agreement — holding Iran to the fire.”
When it comes to the long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Ayalon — who visited Washington, DC last week — said, “My impression is that Trump is ready for a deal. He would like to make a deal, which means he would go for a two-state solution. But, unlike maybe former administrations, he will be more attentive to Israel’s security and other needs.”
On this matter, Oren said, “We’d like to make a deal between Israel and the Palestinians too, but it depends on the type of deal.”
Turning to the potential move of the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — a Trump campaign promise that seems to have been put on hold, at least temporarily — Ayalon said, “Here again, I don’t think it’s realistic to expect any announcements by Trump on this soon. Also, it’s not realistic to expect to get everything the right-wing in Israel wants.”
“From a strategic point of view,” he went on to say, “what could be realistic to expect is a return to the 2004 Bush-Sharon letter, which talked about the reality on the ground — recognition of the major Israeli settlement blocs in the West Bank and defensible borders, which means a military presence in the Jordan Valley.”
“What was so disappointing for Israel was from Day One, in 2009, Obama walked away from this letter,” Ayalon stated. “I think that was one of the major mistakes that prevented any kind of dialogue with the Palestinians and any moving forward. It put Israel in a corner and locked the Palestinians into an unyielding and uncompromising position and we know the rest of the story. I think one of the key errors that Obama and [former Secretary of State John] Kerry made was they cherry picked and singled out the settlement issue as the one and only obstacle to peace, which is not the case. Maybe with Trump we can have a fresh look. If we return to the understandings of the letter, this could be a basis for bringing the two sides back to the negotiating table.”
“I think this is why Trump will not be in a hurry to move the embassy to Jerusalem,” Ayalon continued. “He will want to see what is the position of the Palestinians, if they are ready to move forward. If they are ready to move forward, I believe his objective will be a two-state solution, with everything it entails. But if the Palestinians show no interest, on that basis, in moving forward, then he can decide to move the embassy or do whatever other stuff he is going to do.”
Both Oren and Ayalon agreed that the resignation of US National Security Adviser Michael Flynn would have no impact on the Trump-Netanyahu meeting.
“It will divert some of the press attention, but then again by Wednesday it will already be yesterday’s news,” Oren said.