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May 17, 2017 3:47 pm

Ahead of Trump’s Israel Visit, US Jewish Leaders Highlight Centrality of Jerusalem, Point to Palestinian Authority Terror Funding as Peace Roadblock

avatar by Ben Cohen

President Donald Trump. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

As Donald Trump prepares to leave the current political storm in Washington, DC behind during his first foreign trip as president, American Jewish leaders are offering words of encouragement and advice to the president in advance of his arrival in Israel on Monday.

In an interview with The Algemeiner, Daniel Mariaschin — CEO and executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International — said the inclusion of the Jewish state on the president’s itinerary  “shows the interest that the administration has in cultivating and building the relationship with Israel as an ally.”

But concerns over the White House’s position on Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem continue to fester, following National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster’s reluctance at a press briefing on Tuesday to clarify the administration’s view on the matter, merely labeling it a “policy matter.”

McMaster also confirmed that “no Israeli leaders” would accompany Trump on his visit to the Western Wall in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City.

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“We’re very appreciative that there will be a visit to the Kotel (Western Wall),” Mariaschin said. But, he added, Netanyahu’s absence would be all the more significant given that Trump’s overseas journey — to Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican — is meant to consciously embrace the three Abrahamic faiths.

“Within that context — the importance of the Kotel for the Jewish people, a near-majority of whom now live in Israel — it would be important for the prime minister to accompany the president,” Mariaschin said.

One leading Trump administration official appeared to distance herself from McMaster on the Jerusalem issue. In an interview with the Christian Broadcast Network on Tuesday, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said candidly, “I don’t know what the policy of the administration is, but I believe the Western Wall is part of Israel and I think that that is how we’ve always seen it and that’s how we should pursue it.”

Trump himself spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday about the upcoming visit. No details of the call were released, save for the disclosure that the controversy over Trump’s reported sharing with Russian officials of sensitive intelligence information supplied by the Israelis was not discussed.

Mariaschin spoke positively of Trump’s travel plans in general, expressing optimism that Sunni Arab states and Israel would continue to draw closer together around key issues like Iran. The president’s stop in Saudi Arabia may yield a vital clue about the desert kingdom’s intentions vis-a-vis the Jewish state, he observed.

But Trump’s quest to facilitate meaningful diplomatic negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) without preconditions faces an obstacle in the form of continuing PA incitement and support for terrorism. Trump will meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem on Tuesday.

Rabbi Marvin Hier — the dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) in Los Angeles — told The Algemeiner, “The most important thing to tell the Palestinian leadership is that there will never be peace if Abbas’ idea of peace is that we pay salaries to terrorists and the families of terrorists.”

Hier also highlighted the intra-Palestinian split between the PA in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip as another potentially insurmountable roadblock to peace.

“The people running Gaza want the total obliteration of the State of Israel,” Hier said. “As long as the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is part, is involved, peace will go nowhere.”

“We have to make it clear that there will be no ‘three-state’ solution,” Hier said, referencing Israel, the PA and Hamas-ruled Gaza. “That means no Hamas.”

Hier  — who participated in Trump’s inauguration ceremony in January — expressed his displeasure with the administration’s confusion over Jerusalem in an interview with The Algemeiner on Tuesday, commenting that  Trump visiting the Western Wall without Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was akin to “visiting the Vatican without the pope.”

“This (was) an unnecessary blunder on the part of, firstly, low-level officials, and then McMaster,” he said.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this piece attributed a quote from Rabbi Hier to Mr. Mariaschin. The article has now been corrected.

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