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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Set To Meet Trump


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in Washington. He's set to meet President Trump tomorrow. They'll talk about security in the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Trump has promised full support for Israel. Though, lately he has sent mixed signals on Israeli settlements. NPR's Joanna Kakissis reports all this is happening as Netanyahu faces pressure at home.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu will probably have a lot to talk about in their planned meeting.

REUVEN HAZAN: They seem to be cut from similar cloth.

KAKISSIS: That's Reuven Hazan, a political science professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He spoke by Skype.

HAZAN: Very individual, personalistic-type leadership, not so much having grown within a party organization but wanting to lead. They both come with a Republican perspective of politics and the world.

KAKISSIS: It's the first time Netanyahu will be working closely with an American president who shares his politics. Israeli political analyst Daphna Kaufman says people in Israel are watching closely.

DAPHNA KAUFMAN: There is a perception that there's this potentially historic opportunity for an Israeli leader to put forth a broader vision to an audience that's receptive at a time of a lot of turbulence globally.

KAKISSIS: That broader vision includes recruiting the U.S. to curb Iran's influence in Syria, which borders Israel. And Netanyahu is expected to ask Trump to enlist Russian President Vladimir Putin to restrain Iran's activity around the region. And while that may be Netanyahu top priority, he faces other domestic, political pressures. Members of his right-wing government are pushing him to build many more homes for Jewish settlers in the West Bank, which Israel has occupied since 1967. Netanyahu used to blame Obama for slowing that expansion, says Israeli diplomat Alon Pinkas.

ALON PINKAS: The Israeli Right, including Mr. Netanyahu, profoundly disliked President Obama.

KAKISSIS: Settlements did grow under Obama, as under previous American presidents. Netanyahu may also be looking to distract Israeli attention from two police corruption probes into his administration, says commentator Akiva Eldar.

AKIVA ELDAR: He needs to create new headlines to change the agenda from his own problems to the occupied territories. And this is a master of spinning. He is a magician of spinning.

KAKISSIS: Palestinians of course have a very different view of the meeting. They're hoping Trump will see that the U.S. needs global backing to fight terrorism and extremism.

SAEB EREKAT: But this cannot be done without a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli problem. And here, President Trump doesn't need to reinvent the wheel.

KAKISSIS: That Saeb Erekat, who's secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization. He's saying that Trump should stay focused on a two-state solution to the conflict.

EREKAT: So I urge and appeal to President Trump to seize the opportunity. And he can do it. He can do it by simply asking both parties to come to negotiate and asking Benjamin Netanyahu to stop settlements.

KAKISSIS: Regular Palestinians don't expect much from any U.S. president.

MAJDI QRONFULEH: Donald Trump - he's like Obama and like Bush who don't give us the peace for our lands, OK?

KAKISSIS: That's medical researcher Majdi Qronfuleh in the city of Nablus in the northern West Bank. He says continued settlement growth will make a Palestinian state impossible. But Netanyahu's administration has approved thousands of new settlement homes since Trump was inaugurated last month. Joanna Kakissis, NPR News, Jerusalem.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRAD MEHLDAU SONG, "JOHN BOY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.