- The Washington Times - Monday, February 13, 2017

Perhaps no event better illustrates the foreign policy shift in Washington than the reception Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will get when he arrives Wednesday for his first U.S. visit since the election of Donald Trump.

Where the hard-line Mr. Netanyahu and President Obama famously had trouble getting along, Mr. Trump has become known for his forthright and repeated vows to prove “there is no daylight between America and our most reliable ally.”

Although the general mood will be warm, there could be moments of tension. Mr. Trump and his aides have appeared to criticize the Netanyahu government for its accelerated policy of Jewish settlements on land Palestinians want for an independent state, signaled that the U.S. for now will abide by the Iran nuclear deal, and slow-walked Mr. Trump’s promise to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

Still, on a symbolic level, both sides will be looking to show that tensions of the recent past are gone.

“Both President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu have a very big stake in wanting to demonstrate that whatever problems were with the last administration, they are now gone, said Dennis Ross, who served as the top U.S. diplomat to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in the George H.W. Bush and the Clinton administrations.

Mr. Netanyahu told reporters in Jerusalem that he would handle ties with the U.S., in a “prudent manner,” but he offered few specifics.

“The alliance between Israel and America has always been extremely strong. It’s about to get even stronger. President Trump and I see eye to eye on the dangers emanating from the region, but also on the opportunities,” Mr. Netanyahu said as he boarded a plane to Washington, The Associated Press reported.

Analysts say Mr. Trump may use Mr. Netanyahu’s visit to announce the listing of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps — the powerful branch of the Iranian military charged with protecting the principles of the country’s Islamic revolution — as a terrorist organization. At a minimum, the two men are expected to make a joint public condemnation of Iran’s recent activity across the Middle East.

Mr. Netanyahu, who was first elected in 1996 and has since been in and out of power in Israel through successive U.S. administrations, will also be putting some heavy issues on the table, including Mr. Trump’s expressed desire to cooperate with Russia in defeating the Islamic State in Syria, where Tehran and Moscow are working together in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Netanyahu is [not] against seeing U.S.-Russian cooperation,” Mr. Ross said, but he wants to be sure “that whatever comes out of Syria, it can’t be a new front that Israel faces on its border with the [Iran] Revolutionary Guard and with Hezbollah.”

The two leaders are also expected to discuss the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which repeatedly frustrated the efforts of the Obama administration and former Secretary of State John F. Kerry.

As president-elect, Mr. Trump slammed the Obama White House for breaking with practice and refusing to block a December U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction in Palestinian areas of the West Bank. The move was widely seen as a sign of Washington’s growing impatience with Mr. Netanyahu and settlement policies.

Mr. Trump may stand with Israeli hard-liners on the issue. The president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, now a top White House aide, along with David Friedman, Mr. Trump’s nominee to be U.S. ambassador to Israel, have deep ties to the Israeli settler movement.

But the Trump White House surprised many last week by suddenly issuing a warning to Israel that the construction of new settlements “may not be helpful” to peace efforts — a move that suggested Mr. Trump’s wider view of the situation could be similar to traditional American foreign policy.

The White House has said the issue will be on the table Wednesday, but analysts contend that efforts will be made to avoid the appearance of any friction.

“Even if the two men disagree on Israel’s policies, we are likely to see a return to where disagreements between allies are discussed quietly and respectfully, behind closed doors,” said Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington think tank.

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