By Robert M. Danin, Council on Foreign Relations–
President Donald Trump’s evolving views on Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict appear to be coming into greater focus as he prepares to welcome Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House later this week.
Over the past few months, Trump has expressed two broad sentiments seemingly in tension with one another. In his first interview after the November 2016 vote, then President-elect Trump reiterated a previously expressed desire to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, calling it “the ultimate deal.”
His desire to pursue such a deal has been matched, however, by a second strand of thinking, reflecting an admiration not only for Israel but also for its far-right settlers. The Israeli settlement movement opposes the idea of a Palestinian state and seeks Israel’s annexation of the entire West Bank. The president seemed to be reinforcing his earlier financial support for the settlement enterprise when he appointed staunch settler supporter and fundraiser, David Friedman, to become the next U.S. ambassador to Israel. Friedman immediately announced his intention to live in Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv, since, he suggested, President Trump would soon be recognizing the Holy City as Israel’s capital.
For months, many Middle East observers have wondered how President Trump will reconcile these two strains in his thinking—the quest for the ultimate deal and his support for the settlers who claim all the land as their own. One indicator emerged over the weekend when Israel’s largest circulation Israeli daily newspaper, Israel Hayom, published an interview with President Trump. The president had dined at the White House the night before with the free tabloid’s pro-settlement founder and financier, Sheldon Adelson.
In a seeming rebuke to his dinner guest of the night before, President Trump clearly stated his concerns about continued Israeli settlement activity and their potential to impinge upon peace-making: “The