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Donald Trump, Benjamin Netanyahu hope to reset U.S.-Israel relations

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is meeting with

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is meeting with President Donald Trump on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017. Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Kirsty Wigglesworth

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Wednesday is expected to begin a reset in U.S.-Israel relations, but experts said they also hope Trump clarifies his shifting views on crucial issues.

Netanyahu will visit the White House with hopes for a better relationship, personally and politically, with Trump than he had over the past eight years with President Barack Obama, according to academics and lawmakers.

As he left Israel for the United States on Monday, Netanyahu tweeted: “Flying now to DC to meet with President Trump. The alliance between the US and Israel has always been strong and it’s about to get stronger.”

White House spokesman Sean Spicer on Tuesday said the leaders will discuss advancing the relationship between the two countries and stability in the Middle East.

They’ll also consult about threats posed by Iran and its proxies, the crisis in Syria and countering ISIS and other terrorist groups, Spicer said, as well the way forward to achieving the goal of a “comprehensive agreement that would end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, founded by the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, and Dylan Williams, a lobbyist for the liberal American Jewish group J Street, said they hope Trump clarifies some of his inconsistent statements as a candidate, president-elect and president.

“What we’re hoping for is some clarity from both President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu on whether they are both going to support a two-state solution in deed as well as word,” Williams said. “That’s the most important thing.”

Netanyahu sidestepped a question about whether he supports a Palestinian state as he left Israel for his White House meeting. The prime minister faces pressure by right-leaning politicians in Israel who want to abandon the two-state solution.

And since Trump took office, Netanyahu has approved construction of 6,000 settler homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. That prompted international condemnation, but Trump did not join in.

Trump has given different views on the peace process. As a candidate, he first promised to be neutral in negotiations, but then said he’d support Israel and its settlements. As president, he has backed a two-state solution and cautioned Israel that expanding settlements “may not be helpful.”

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), co-chairman of the House Republican Israel Caucus, said Palestinian leaders’ refusal to recognize the state of Israel also is an obstacle to peace.

“I believe that President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu would prefer a two-state solution. I would anticipate though that it’s possible that they may be more candid about the present day viability of that pursuit,” Zeldin said in an email.

As a candidate, Trump promised to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, but after becoming president explained he has not acted because “we’re studying it very long and hard.”

While Trump on the campaign trail promised to tear up the Iran nuclear deal crafted by Obama and six other nations, he has not done so, yet, as president.

Complicating the view of his administration is Trump’s nominee for U.S. Ambassador to Israel: lawyer David Friedman, who said he wants to end the two-state solution approach and move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

Still, a new tone will be struck by Trump with Netanyahu.

“The Obama administration successfully engineered with Israel the deepest, broadest, most profound military security and intelligence relationship of any administration,” Satloff said. “At the same time, it had with Israel one of the tensest, rawest, most angst-filled political and strategic relationships.”

Satloff said he expected the Trump administration to “define its objective as being to repair this sense of deep political strategic divide.”

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