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February 17, 2017 5:58 pm

Ex-Top US National Security Official: Trump-Netanyahu White House Meeting Marked ‘Symbolic Reset’ of Relations Between American and Israeli Governments After Tense Obama Era

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump take a walk outside during their first White House meeting, Feb. 15, 2017. Photo: Avi Ohayon/ GPO via Netanyahu's Facebook page.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump take a walk outside during their first White House meeting, Feb. 15, 2017. Photo: Avi Ohayon / GPO via Netanyahu’s Facebook page.

The White House meeting this week between President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu marked a “symbolic reset of relations” between the governments of their two countries, a prominent American foreign policy expert said on Friday.

Elliott Abrams — a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former deputy national security adviser to President George W. Bush — explained during a Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA) conference call, “We have come through a period of eight years of tension at various levels, but particularly the top level. It’s clear that [ex-President Barack] Obama and Netanyahu didn’t get along, didn’t like each other. And that attitude was then communicated to the White House staff. You had a lot of backbiting, criticism of Netanyahu — all of that is over. We’ve returned now to the idea that there should be no daylight in public between the two governments. There will be plenty of disagreements, but those will be discussed in closed rooms and the relations at the top are obviously, genuinely, good. There is no artifice here about getting along.”

“That’s a critically important thing,” Abrams continued. “The whole US government takes its cue from the relationship at the top.”

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Furthermore, Abrams noted, “Other governments also pay attention. I’ve always believed that most governments, particularly in Europe, base their relationship [with Israel] on ours. They don’t want to be quite as close to Israel. So if we’re distant, they’re more distant. If we’re close, then they get closer.”

Trump’s non-committal stance on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Abrams stated, was a positive development.

“The goal should never be a two-state solution, the goal is peace,” Abrams said. “And there are many ways of moving in that direction and there are several potential endpoints. And I think that it’s useful to the Israelis and for us to remind everybody that the goal is peace. We should not let the means become more important than the end, and we should think about that goal, rather than saying there is no other possible arrangement ever than the two-state solution.”

Regarding Trump’s views on Israeli construction in the West Bank — the president on Wednesday asked Netanyahu to “hold back on settlements for a little bit” — Abrams assessed, “I think that [the Trump administration is] moving back to the George W. Bush approach. And what was the Bush approach? Basically it was, don’t change the footprint [and] don’t expand the settlements geographically. Population growth, that’s different. Build up and in. In built-up areas, if you want to build a new house, a new apartment, that doesn’t affect the Palestinians or the chances of peace really. So the Google Earth map, if you put it that way, of the settlements doesn’t change.”

“We had a deal with [late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon that was basically no new settlements, no physical — territorial — expansion of settlements and no financial inducements to move to a settlement. I think this administration is moving back to that view.”

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