President Donald Trump’s plan to become the first sitting U.S. president to visit the Western Wall is likely to be the most dramatic moment of his 26-hour trip to Israel, said two U.S. experts on Israeli diplomacy convened Tuesday, May 16, by the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta.
Daniel Shapiro, who was the U.S. ambassador to Israel for the last 5½ years of the Obama administration, and Scott Lasensky, an Atlanta native who served as Shapiro’s senior adviser, called in from Israel for the second in a three-call educational series led by Lasensky. But the scheduled topic, common interests and values between the United States and Israel, was changed to address Trump’s trip to Israel on Monday, May 22, the third stop on his first foreign trip as president.
Shapiro called it “meaningful” and reflective of strong relations that Israel is part of the trip.
He said the itinerary is packed, likely including an important visit to Yad Vashem and what might be the first presidential visit to Jerusalem’s Old City, let alone the Kotel.
In a trip that is causing tremendous excitement in Israel, Lasensky said, the Kotel stop stands out. Shapiro said it might upset the Palestinians but could be a way for Trump to cushion Israeli disappointment at his expected decision to postpone the U.S. Embassy’s move to Jerusalem for at least six more months.
While the embassy, Iran, Syria, Islamic State, security cooperation, terrorism and other issues are likely to be discussed, Trump’s surprising emphasis appears to be on restarting the peace talks, even though the same leaders, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas, are dealing with the same pressures and same mistrust.
“My strong impression is that both of them are rather nervous,” said Shapiro, who will be the keynote speaker at Federation’s annual meeting at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday, June 7, at Ahavath Achim Synagogue.
He said he’s no fan of the Trump administration, but when it comes to Israeli-Palestinian policy, “I don’t have anything to criticize.”