- The Washington Times - Monday, March 5, 2018

President Trump said Monday that he hopes to make a historic visit to Israel in May for the opening of the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, as he expressed optimism that Palestinians will return to peace talks despite their fierce opposition to his move.

Hosting embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House, Mr. Trump said he would enjoy the symbolic culmination of his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel by presiding over the dedication of the new embassy.

“We’re looking at coming,” Mr. Trump told reporters. “If I can, I will.”

Palestinians want to make Jerusalem the capital of their own state, and they have broken off talks with the administration since Mr. Trump’s announcement. But the president said he believes there’s still “a good chance” for a peace deal.

“The Palestinians, I think, are wanting to come back to the table very badly,” Mr. Trump said. “If they don’t, you don’t have peace.”

The relocation of the embassy from Tel Aviv, something promised but not delivered by previous U.S. presidents, could be the high point of what is already a close relationship between Mr. Trump and Mr. Netanyahu.

“The Jewish people have a long memory,” Mr. Netanyahu told the president. “This will be remembered by our people throughout the ages.”

Despite their celebration of the embassy move, the meeting came with both leaders under clouds of investigations that they are decrying as “witch hunts.”

A few hours before Mr. Netanyahu arrived at the White House, news broke in Israel that his former spokesman had turned state’s witness in a corruption probe. Mr. Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing.

A few hours after their meeting, Mr. Trump received another reminder of special counsel Robert Mueller’s expanding Russia investigation when former campaign aide Sam Nunberg announced on live TV that he was ignoring a subpoena for emails and other documents dating back to November 2015. He said prosecutors insinuated that Mr. Trump had “done something” during the campaign, a characterization rejected by the White House.

One of Mr. Trump’s key designated brokers for Middle East peace talks is senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law. But Mr. Kushner had his security clearance downgraded last month, shutting off his access to top secret national security information.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday that Mr. Kushner’s job as an informal Middle East envoy hasn’t changed.

“His role wasn’t impacted today,” she said.

It’s unclear whether either Mr. Trump or Mr. Netanyahu has the political and diplomatic clout under these circumstances to forge new peace talks with Palestinians who are currently refusing to accept the U.S. as a broker for negotiations.

The White House says it is close to completing a Middle East peace plan that it will release at a time of its choosing.

“We’re going to do that when we think the time is right,” said Mrs. Sanders. “The conversations are still ongoing. It’s certainly something we’re very committed to fixing.”

As he’s done previously, Mr. Trump asserted that his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital had resolved a thorny issue dividing Israel and the Palestinians.

“We’ve taken it off the table,” he said. “So this gives us a real opportunity for peace.”

But other observers in the Middle East say the prospect of peace talks is more remote than ever.

Anshel Pfeffer, writing in the Israeli daily Haaretz, said Monday that U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley is the only U.S. official that senior Israelis take seriously any longer.

“The number of Israeli diplomats and officials who still believe there will be a real Trump peace plan, anything more than a few bland statements of unclear intent, is now minuscule,” he wrote.


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