“Both sides” will need to make hard decisions to achieve peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, President Trump said in a newly published interview.
“Right now, I would say the Palestinians are not looking to make peace, they are not looking to make peace,” he said in the interview with the Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom.
“And I am not necessarily sure that Israel is looking to make peace. So we are just going to have to see what happens.”
Trump’s interview at the White House was with Boaz Bismuth, Israel Hayom’s editor in chief, who explained Trump told him there were some subjects he couldn’t discuss.
“I interviewed Trump before the latest escalation in Israel’s north, before Israel clashed with Syrian and Iranian forces at the Syrian border on Saturday. But even then, it was painfully clear that Syria and Iran are testing the U.S., checking how far they can push the Americans (including reports of chemical attacks and hospital bombings in recent days),” Bismuth said.
“When I asked Trump if Israel is free to operate in Syria and in Lebanon against Iranian targets, he adopted an air of uncharacteristic ambiguity. But the message was clear – when it comes to Iran, it is best to let actions do the talking. The U.S. is keeping its cards close to the chest,” he said.
Asked if it’s possible to prevent Iran from establishing permanent military bases in Syria and in Lebanon, the president said: “You are going to see. You can watch [and see].”
He also responded, “We will see” when asked if the ayatollah regime still will be in place in Iran when he leaves office.
And about Israel’s right to defend itself if bases are built in Syria and Lebanon, the president said: “I don’t want to comment on that right now. It is too soon.”
Bismuth wrote: “Unlike Obama, Trump realizes that actions are far more powerful than speeches (actions like bombing Syria or relocating the American embassy, for example). It appears that Trump understands the profound truth behind the iconic line: ‘When you have to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk.'”
The editor wrote that as “someone who has personally met Trump on a number of occasions, including three times in the Oval Office, I could sense a change in him this time.”
“In my view, the change was for the better. He was more serious, more thoughtful, considering my questions before firing back, and also more inquisitive, asking me far more questions for a change,” Bismuth said.
“Not only has he fulfilled his campaign promise on Jerusalem (officially recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on Dec. 6), it was apparent that the very question regarding the meaning of his Jerusalem recognition took him by surprise. To him, the meaning of the move is self-evident. Anyone with a brain should be able to understand it, even if they don’t agree with it.”
He said Trump was handed “a particularly challenging inheritance” by Obama, “a massive Russian and Iranian presence in the heart of the Syrian conflict.”
Bismuth said there are two key actions to remember, Trump’s caution to Iran over its ballistic missile tests and his bombing in Syria in response to the use of chemical weapons there.
The editor said: “Contrary to the reputation he gained during his campaign, Trump actually prefers actions over talking. When he identifies an opportunity, he doesn’t hesitate – he strikes. Iran and Syria should take that under advisement. He has maintained this stance despite the fact that Obama complicated matters for his successor when he stood idly by while the Russian started entering Syria in 2015.”
The president said he believes he accomplished even more in his first year than he had promised.
“We got certain things done that I am not sure anyone thought were possible, including the biggest tax relief ever, and ANWR [drilling permits], and the [scrapping of] the individual mandate [under Obamacare], and regulation cutting like there has never been. So we have done very well. Beyond expectations,” he said.
Trump said his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was highlight.
“I think Jerusalem was a very big point. And I think it was a very important point. The capital, having Jerusalem be your great capital was a very important thing to a lot of people. I have been thanked and in some cases not thanked, to be 100 percent honest about it. But it was a very important pledge that I made and I fulfilled my pledge.”
He said he can understand why many other presidents “bailed on their promise, because tremendous pressure was put on them not to do it.”
‘The other presidents, all of them have failed in the promise even though they made it as a campaign promise, but I understand it because I will tell you, the lobbying against it was tremendous,” he said.
He said that for there to be Middle East peace, ultimately “both sides” will need to make “hard compromises.”
“When people look at all of the death and destruction … years of death, destruction, wealth gone and dissipated, massive amounts of wealth dissipated, I think people are tired of it,” he said. “That is why making peace is so smart for Israel and for the Palestinians, and it can lead to more than that. But I think Saudi Arabia and other countries have come a long way.”
Will he cut off support for nations that boycott Israel?
“I don’t want to say that, because, you know, some countries maybe and some countries not. I just don’t want to talk about that,” he said.
While obstacles remain, he said, there’s a greater chance for peace now than during the previous U.S. administration.
“I mean you certainly weren’t very close with Obama, he gave you the Iran deal, which basically is a deal that says let’s ultimately do bad things to Israel. Obama was terrible. He was absolutely terrible for Israel,” he said.
Has he seen a change in Iran since he took office?
“I have noticed very much a change in their behavior. But I am not going to comment as to what the change is. But there has definitely been a change.”