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Trump To Welcome Israel's Netanyahu To White House Meeting

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Donald Trump is welcoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House tomorrow. Trump has said he wants to apply his skills as a dealmaker to bringing peace to the Middle East, something that has eluded so many American presidents before him. We are joined now by Martin Indyk. He is the former U.S. ambassador to Israel. Thanks so much for being with us.

MARTIN INDYK: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: What is Prime Minister Netanyahu looking for in this meeting?

INDYK: He would very much like the meeting to focus on Iran. That's always been his major concern. And I think he believed that he had a partner in the White House with President Trump, unlike President Obama, that would share his view of the threat that Iran posed to Israel and to the region, particularly its nuclear program. And I think he felt he had there a partner in General Flynn, now-resigned national security adviser, who shared that view very strongly. But he's gone now. And President Trump seems to be focused on what he calls the ultimate deal, which is to work out a deal between Israel and the Palestinians, which is the last thing that the prime minister wants to discuss.

MARTIN: President Trump has given some mixed messages about how he thinks about Israel. He has suggested moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which would have angered Palestinians. Now he's backed off that. And the White House recently put out a statement saying that any new settlements that Israel might build wouldn't help the peace process. So what does that mean? Is Donald Trump proving to be a more complicated ally than Netanyahu may have thought initially?

INDYK: Yes. I think complicated in that sense, that he is a real estate developer who's looking at a land deal here. And he sees - and he said it in an interview to the Israeli press last Friday - that if you build more settlements there's less land to do the deal over. So that's what he's focused on. And I think that Prime Minister Netanyahu has a real problem when it gets to that because he's presiding over a right-wing government, major members of whom are insisting not only that he build more settlements but that he annex all or part of the West Bank, which is supposed to be reserved for a Palestinian state on which a deal would be made, the two-state solution.

MARTIN: And, of course, Donald Trump has tapped a couple different people to be his main points of contact for his Middle Eastern policy - his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and also his U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman. What does that team signal to you?

INDYK: Well, there's a complete disconnect between his ambassador-designate, who strongly supports the settlement activity, President Trump, who's now told the Israeli people in this interview last week that he's not somebody that believes that going forward with these settlements is a good thing for peace. That's a direct quote from Donald Trump's interview. So it's not clear there whether there's commonality between the ambassador-designate and his president.

On the other hand, his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, whom he has given the file to - and President Trump says of Kushner that if he can't do the deal nobody can. And so he's going to be responsible for trying to negotiate an Israeli-Palestinian deal. He has the great advantage of being the president's son-in-law and clearly has his confidence. And that will send a very important signal to Israelis, Palestinians and Arabs alike.

But he's got a problem. He doesn't have experience in dealing with this. And the situation on the ground is so fraught and so difficult that his chances of success have got to be rated pretty low.

MARTIN: Ambassador Martin Indyk has also served as U.S. special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. He's the executive vice president of the Brookings Institution. Thank you so much.

INDYK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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