The third meeting this year between Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump did not yield any major breakthroughs on the issues of interest to the two countries.
As the two leaders met on Monday in New York, where both were taking part in the United Nations General Assembly, there was just a tiny discordant note in the different emphases they both put on the main subjects on the agenda.
Going into the meeting, Mr Trump said: “We’re going to be discussing many things, among them peace between the Palestinians and Israel.” He added: “It would be a fantastic achievement...We’re giving it an absolute go. I think there’s a good chance that it could happen.”
Mr Netanyahu, however, was much more eager to address the issues surrounding Iran. He said: “I look forward to discussing how we can address together what you rightly call a terrible nuclear deal with Iran, and how to roll back Iran’s growing aggression in the region, especially in Syria.”
Regarding the Palestinians, Mr Netanyahu said: “We will discuss the ways we can seize the opportunity for peace between Israel and the Palestinians and Israel and the Arab world.”
Neither the Iranian nor Palestinian issues are expected to have caused any disagreement during the hour-long meeting that followed the pair’s brief press conference. Mr Trump’s envoys to the Middle East have so far put most of the pressure on the Palestinian side to stop incitement and work harder to combat terrorism, while Israel has largely escaped pressure over recent months.
With respect to the nuclear deal with Iran, Mr Netanyahu was satisfied with the harsh criticism of it from the US President in recent days. However, an American decision of whether to stick with the current deal or demand changes will only come in a month and most of Mr Trump’s advisors are expected to recommend sticking with it.
For now, Mr Netanyahu is mainly pleased with the change in tone from that with which he discussed the issues with Barack Obama, who regarded the Iran deal as the centerepiece of his foreign policy legacy. Of the issues discussed in the meeting, the one over which there is the most frustration within the Israeli government is the future of Iran’s involvement in Syria.
A senior Israeli intelligence official said last week that “eight months since Trump’s inauguration, we’re still waiting for his administration to make its mind up about what it wants to achieve in Syria”.
While there were some encouraging signs of the administration’s willingness to show more involvement than under Mr Obama — including the missile strike in retaliation to the use of chemical weapons and more support for Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces — there still is no clear American policy.
What’s more, the Trump administration has not shown any insistence on limiting Iran’s post-war role in Syria in its dealings with Russia.