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Trump Aims To Get Israelis And Palestinians Talking Again


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Welcome to Israel. (Foreign language spoken).


That was the sound greeting President Trump this morning as he landed in Israel, where he's hoping to pull off what he has described as the ultimate deal, getting the Israelis and Palestinians to the same table. Trump had a closed-door meeting this morning with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. And afterward, he repeated tough words about Iran that he had used at his first stop on this trip in Saudi Arabia. This is language that's music to the ears of the Israelis.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: There is a growing realization among your Arab neighbors that they have common cause with you and the threat posed by Iran. And it is indeed a threat. There is no question about that.

GREENE: Let's talk now with NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith, who is in Jerusalem. She is traveling on the trip. Hey, Tam.


GREENE: So the president has just visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem. And he's now the first sitting U.S. president to do this. The Western Wall, revered as holy by Jews. It's at the base of a hill seen as holy in both Judaism and Islam. What's the significance of this?

KEITH: Well, he is the first sitting U.S. president to do this. President Obama went, but it was as a candidate. And the reason that sitting presidents don't do it is because this is contested territory. And it - and it's a complicated situation there. Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, was asked where Jerusalem - or where the wall is, whether it's in Israel or not. And he said, the wall is part of Jerusalem, which is the diplomatic answer.

GREENE: The diplomatic way to answer that question.

KEITH: Right.

GREENE: Well, so President Trump told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he can really get a deal that has eluded so many past presidents and others, that he can cut an Israeli-Palestinian deal quicker than anyone ever imagined. What does Donald Trump have up his sleeve?

KEITH: And I will say that there are a lot of people skeptical about whether he can really do this and whether it's harder than he thinks it is. But he believes that, as he said in that clip that we heard, that there's a lot of interest in the Arab world to support the process. And he believes that the threat of ISIS and of terrorism is something that could unite people that don't often come together.

GREENE: Now, Tam, you - the first stop on this trip, as we said, was Saudi Arabia - second stop is Israel. Do I have this wrong? It is not possible to fly commercially between those two countries because there are no diplomatic relations. What - how did the president do this?

KEITH: Yeah, so the president flew direct. And that was news because there is no way to fly directly. But the flight pattern was cleared by Saudi Arabia. And so it happened. And Prime Minister Netanyahu talked about it shortly after President Trump landed.


PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Mr. President, you just flew from Riyadh to Tel Aviv. I hope that one day, an Israeli prime minister will be able to fly from Tel Aviv to Riyadh.

GREENE: Sounding optimistic there, Tam.

KEITH: He is sounding optimistic there. President Trump today meets with Netanyahu. Tomorrow, he meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

GREENE: All right, NPR's Tamara Keith. Thanks, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.