WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Monday that he might visit Israel in May to preside over the opening of a new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem in what would be a potent act of symbolism, even as he expressed optimism that Palestinians angered by the move would nonetheless return to the peacemaking table.
"We’re looking at coming," Trump said as he hosted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel at the White House. "If I can, I will."
While Palestinian leaders have broken off communications with the Trump administration over the president’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Trump suggested that they would resume discussions and asserted that he still has "a good chance" of forging a peace deal that has eluded his predecessors for decades.
"The Palestinians, I think, are wanting to come back to the table very badly," Trump said. "If they don’t, you don’t have peace."
Palestinian leaders, who also claim Jerusalem as the capital of a future state, have given no public indication that they would return to discussions any time soon. In response to the president’s Jerusalem move, they declared that they no longer saw the United States as a neutral broker with the Israelis. Trump then withheld $65 million in aid for Palestinian refugees.
But Monday’s meeting between Trump and Netanyahu in the Oval Office turned into a celebration of the embassy move that both hailed as a sign that Israeli-U.S. relations have never been stronger. While other presidents have promised such a move and Congress has passed a measure officially declaring Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital, no president followed through until Trump, out of fear of angering the Palestinians and other Arabs and prejudging a final peace agreement.
Netanyahu lavished praise on Trump for the Jerusalem decision.
Unlike Trump, however, Netanyahu mentioned the goal of peace with the Palestinians only in passing and focused instead on the topic he always makes his top priority when he visits Washington, namely the threat from Iran. He hoped to use the visit to encourage Trump to tear up or renegotiate President Barack Obama’s agreement with Tehran limiting its nuclear program, deeming it insufficiently tough.
"Iran must be stopped," Netanyahu said. "That is our common challenge."