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Trump & Netanyahu Agree: Israel-Gulf Peace First

By DEBKAfile, VOA News &

"One state, two states, I like this state," Donald Trump joked, turning to visiting Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu when they addressed a wide-ranging, friendly news conference Wednesday at the White House, ahead of their face-to-face talks. See

In response to questions, Trump said any diplomatic solution that would be good for Israel and the Palestinians would also be good for the US; that his administration is looking at the issue of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem "with great care", adding he "would like to see it happen" and that he would like to see Israel "hold back a little bit" regarding settlements.

Trump reacted positively to Netanyahu's proposal to broaden the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to a regional effort as a "very important" new idea "on a broader canvas" which he believed could succeed. Netanyahu said that the regional fears of Iran also presented an opportunity for cooperation against the Islamic State and radical Islamic terror.

DEBKAfile reports that these sentiments reflected agreement in principle between Trump and Netanyahu to seek an Israeli peace accord with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates as the lead-in to negotiations for an accord with the Palestinians. Egypt, Jordan and Turkey with whom Israel already has normal relations would jump in later. This deal fits in with the US plan reported more than once on these pages for a regional peace between the Sunni Arab nations and the Jewish State.

Some of the spadework may have been performed by CIA Director Mike Pompeo who paid a secret visit to Ramallah Wednesday morning for talks with Mahmoud Abbas, after trips to Ankara and Riyadh, following which Turkey upgraded its diplomatic mission in Israel. This plan was the fulcrum for the president to push back against the two-state solution advocated by the Obama administration as the cure for the conflict. It remains to be seen if this plan takes on life outside the White House and in the region's capitals.

Trump realistically called on Israel to "hold back settlements," show flexibility and make compromises for a peace deal. He urged the Palestinians to "get rid of hate starting in the schoolroom." Whatever the Israelis and Palestinians agree to in direct talks - one state or two – "I will accept,." he said, adding "I believe we will have a deal that is better than many Israelis think."

In answer to a question on settlements, Netanyahu replied that he did not believe they were the core of the conflict and the issue could be addressed in peace negotiations. With regard to a two-state formula, the prime minister said this was a label and he preferred to deal in substance. An independent state was contingent on the Palestinians recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, giving up incitement to violence and Israel remaining responsible for security up to the Jordan River. "Do we want another failed state, another terrorist state?" he asked. Netanyahu commended Trump for pledging that Iran must never, ever obtain a nuclear weapon and stressed that its missile program was a threat - not only to Israel and the region, but to America due to the ICBMs under development and Iran's plans for a nuclear arsenal.

"My administration has already imposed new sanctions on Iran. And I will do more to prevent Iran from ever developing -- and I mean ever -- a nuclear weapon," Trump said. Netanyahu praised what he said was Trump's "great clarity and courage in confronting" the challenge from Iran.

On Wednesday morning Trump greeted the Israeli leader with stress on the "unbreakable bond with our cherished ally, Israel" their cooperation against violence and terror and shared values in respect of human life. He said that his first sit-down with Netanyahu as president would be the first of "many productive meetings."

The president made the exceptional gestures of welcoming Netanyahu and his wife Sarah at the door of the White House, with the First Lady at his side. The couples exchanged warm embraces. Melania Trump took a seat beside Sarah Netanyahu in the front row of the news conference. They were joined by Ivanka and Jared Kushner, who holds the post of special adviser to the president. Netanyahu ends his Washington visit Thursday after meeting Vice President Mike Pence and leaders of Congress.

Trump's suggestion that the U.S. could back a single state as a long-term solution for the region potentially upends decades of international diplomatic efforts aimed at creating an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

"I'm looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like," Trump said during a news conference with Netanyahu. "I can live with either one. I thought for a while the two-state looked like it might be the easier of the two, but honestly, if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I'm happy with the one they like the best."

During the news conference, Trump also asked Netanyahu to "hold back for a little bit" on expanding settlements in Palestinian territory, while the White House works on efforts to revive the Middle East peace process. "I think we're going to make a deal," Trump said. "It might be a bigger and better deal than people in this room understand."

For his part, Netanyahu also refused to commit to a two-state solution. He said he planned to discuss settlements with Trump later, so that the U.S. and Israel don't keep "bumping into each other. I believe that the issue of the settlements is not the core of the conflict, nor does it really drive the conflict," Netanyahu said. "I think it's an issue that has to be resolved in the context of peace negotiations."

Eytan Gilboa, a public diplomacy professor at Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv, told VOA he believes Netanyahu no longer seeks to push the United States to reject the Iran nuclear deal – something he lobbied the U.S. Congress to do last year, without success. "Netanyahu and Trump already agree that the deal was a bad one and that it's not going to accomplish its intended goal," Gilboa said. "Now, there are other issues on the table that concern both leaders, namely Iran's experiments with long-range missile capabilities as well as Iranian sponsorship of terrorist groups in the region."

Trump and Netanyahu's close relationship strengthened during the U.S. presidential election campaign, when they bonded over similar hard-line stances -- not only on Iran but also on immigration and terrorism. In his campaign speeches Trump slammed Obama for making his feuds with Netanyahu public, and vowed there would be "no daylight" -- no difference in basic policy -- between the U.S. and Israel during his administration. Since taking office last month, however, possible areas of disagreement have emerged.

Trump's comments on the one-state solution will likely draw the most attention. Observers were mixed on just what the comments meant. "I think it's a mischaracterization to see this as a dramatic break with past U.S. policies," said Yousef Munayyer, director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights.

Munayyer is open to the creation of a single, democratic state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, with equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians. But he questions whether that is what Trump was actually referring to. Instead, he thinks Trump may have been signaling support for the status quo, in which Israel continues to occupy the West Bank, as it has since 1967. "What we're hearing from Trump today is that he's open to that, and that he doesn't expressly reject the status quo," Munayyer told VOA.

Jonathan Adelman, who teaches at the University of Denver, also does not think Trump was referring to a single, democratic state -- an idea he says is unrealistic. "The one-state solution won't work because what would happen is that the Arabs would eventually have the majority in the one state. The Israelis are not going to agree to that. They didn't fight for Israel for the last 74 years to have an Arab state," Adelman said.

Palestinian officials reacted negatively Wednesday to suggestions that the U.S. would abandon the effort to reach a two-state solution. "The only alternative to two sovereign and democratic states on the 1967 border is one single, secular and democratic state with equal rights for everyone, Christians, Muslims and Jews, on all of historic Palestine," said Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Speaking in Cairo, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also reiterated support for the two-state solution. "There is no Plan B to the situation between Palestinians and Israelis but a two-state solution, and everything must be done to preserve that possibility," he said.

Whatever the eventual outcome, Trump has designated his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to head up Middle East peace efforts. Reports have suggested the White House will attempt to advance the talks by involving Arab states, specifically those that have increasingly warmed to Israeli leaders in recent years.

During his news conference, Trump confirmed that he would pursue a so-called "outside-in" strategy to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. "It's actually a much bigger deal – much more important deal in a sense," Trump said. "It would take in many, many countries and would cover a very large territory." It's unclear how the administration intends to advance that deal, or which Arab states if any would agree to make peace with Israel or pressure the Palestinian leadership to do so.

William Quandt, a former member of the U.S. National Security Council who was involved in negotiations that led to the Camp David Accords and the Egypt-Israel peace treaty, doubts whether Arab states would put enough pressure on the Palestinians to come to an agreement. "They're not going to do it. They have other priorities. They're relatively weak regimes in terms of fundamental legitimacy," he told VOA. Quandt also is skeptical that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would respond to political pressure.

"I mean, Abu Mazen [Abbas] is in the 14th year of his four-year term," Quandt said, referring to Abbas. "What's he going to do if people pressure him? He's going to say: `We don't accept.' That's his legitimacy: to say no."

The University of Denver's Adelman thinks there is room for an "outside-in" approach. He noted that Arab leaders across the region are more open to the idea of using improved ties with Israel as a counter-balance against their rival, Iran.

"You take Saudi Arabia. They've always hated, hated, hated Israel. The last couple years there have been a number of articles about senior people in Saudi Arabia talking positively about Israel. Why would they do that?" "The bottom line is," he says, "There's a deal out there."

After meeting with Trump, Netanyahu held a press briefing in which he revealed that he asked Trump to fully recognize Israel's presence in Golan Heights as part of the State of Israel. He noted that Trump did not rule out the possibility and was not surprised by the request.

Netanyahu also hailed the friendship between the United States and Israel, saying, "I've felt quite a few miracles in my life and I can say that we have never had a greater friend than Trump. We discussed the major challenges in the Middle East and talked about a dramatic upgrade in the relations between Israel and the United States."

Relating to the Israel-Palestinian Authority issue, Netanyahu said that he and Trump agreed to discuss the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria soon in order to reach an understanding and to strive for peace.

Asked if the two-state solution is no longer an option in the wake of Trump's comments that he would not necessarily push for that specific solution, Netanyahu replied, "In my perception, Israel will maintain, under all circumstances, the highest authority on security issues and I will insist on that. I do not want to annex two million Palestinians to Israel, but must ensure that we will not be subjected to the terror from a Palestinian state," added the Prime Minister, who refrained throughout the briefing from mentioning the term "two states".

Two Israeli Nanosatellites Launched into Space

By DEBKAfile, AFP &

A pair of Israeli nanosatellites for scientific experiments was launched on Wednesday from India's Satish Dhawan Space Centre. One of the tiny satellites, the one-kilogram BGUSAT built by students at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, is for checking the functioning of electronic components in space, while the other satellite, built by Israeli startup SpacePharma, is for experiments on medicines in zero gravity conditions. The satellites were sent into orbit along with 138 picosatellites and one large satellite.

Weighing just five kilograms (11 pounds), the BGUSAT is outfitted with innovative new cameras that can detect climate phenomena and a guidance system that lets the operators choose the areas to shoot and research through a dedicated ground station at BGU.

It is the first time that any Israeli university will have access to data from an Israeli nanosatellite for research purposes. "This is the first time that Israeli researchers will have the opportunity to receive information directly from a completely blue and white satellite, without having to go through other countries or research agencies," said Avi Belsberger, director of the Israel Space Agency.

Following the satellite's launch, the Israel Space Agency has allocated an additional NIS 1 million to fund future research based on the data to be received from the satellite and sent out a call for proposals. BGU and TAU have already submitted a joint proposal to study Earth's airglow layer.

"Nanosatellites enable space engineering and space research at costs that are affordable for academia. The reduced costs allow academia to assume a much more active role in the field taking advantage of the innovation and initiative of researchers and students," said Prof. Dan Blumberg, BGU's VP and Dean for R&D.

Through the BGUSAT cameras, researchers will be able to track atmospheric gases like CO2 in order to understand climate change, to examine changes in ground moisture that could be an indicator of desertification and affect agricultural development or to monitor plant development in different regions.

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