By Luke Baker
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump gave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a couple of jolts when they met for the first time on Wednesday as leaders of the United States and Israel.
If there were differences, the two men – each immersed in political turmoil on the home front – did all they could to mask them during a White House news conference of smiles and cordial asides.
Trump went some distance to embrace Netanyahu’s views, upending decades of U.S. Middle East policy by dropping insistence on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Netanyahu sought to demonstrate personal chemistry with Israel’s closest ally after eight years of awkwardness and tensions with Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama.
Trump and Netanyahu exchanged three handshakes during the news conference. Each time, Netanyahu looked Trump in the eye.
With their wives and staff members in the audience, each man said the other’s country had no better ally than his country.
Trump, who took office on Jan. 20, then caught Netanyahu off-guard, at one point saying that if a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was going to be reached, “Both sides will have to make compromises.”
Turning to Netanyahu, he said, “You know that, right?”
Netanyahu looked momentarily startled and replied, chuckling, “Both sides.”
Trump turned to Netanyahu while responding to a question about settlements, a particular point of tension during the Obama years, and said, “I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit.”
Again, Netanyahu’s face registered surprise before he offered an ironic smile.
Trump offered no new prescription for achieving a peace that has eluded many of his predecessors.
Trump, who appointed his son-in-law Jared Kushner as his special adviser on the Middle East, said, “I think we’re going to make a deal, it might be a bigger and better deal than people in this room even understand. That’s a possibility. So let’s see what we do.”
“Let’s try,” Netanyahu said.
Trump, who made a point of saying they were old friends, responded, “That doesn’t sound too optimistic, but he’s a good negotiator.”
In a play on the title of Trump’s 1987 best-selling book, Netanyahu responded, “That’s the art of the deal.”
Near the end of his comments, Netanyahu sought to show how well he knows Kushner, whose father, Charles Kushner, has donated generously to Israeli causes.
“Can I reveal, Jared, how long we’ve known you?” said Netanyahu, looking to Jared Kushner, 36, who was sitting in the front row.
“Well, he was never small. He was always big. He was always tall,” Netanyahu said, implying he had known Kushner since he was a baby.
(Editing by Howard Goller and Leslie Adler)