U.S. President Donald Trump says he hopes both the Israelis and Palestinians “can be open minded and see that we can get something done” with respect to reigniting the stalled peace process. In an exclusive interview with Israel Hayom — the first interview the 45th president of the United States has given Israeli media since taking office on Jan. 20 — Trump touched on major issues, such as the strong U.S.-Israel relations, the nuclear deal with Iran, and his plans for the U.S.’s role in the Middle East.
Q: We have met several times, but this time you are president. What a change.
“Well, it is a change. You have treated me very fairly so I am doing this interview. You were always very fair, and Israel is very important to me. You represent a lot of what is happening in Israel, so it is my honor to do this interview.”
Q: How does it feel to be the most important man on earth?
“Well, I don’t think about it that way. I think about it as somebody who has a big job to do. We have a lot of difficulties in the world and hopefully we can help solve these difficulties. We are making a lot of headway, but there are definitely a lot of problems in the world, not just Israel and the Palestinians. There are many conflicts all over.”
Q: Mr. President, I followed your campaign. I was one of the only journalists who believed from the beginning that you were going to win, and I saw you on election night. What was the first thing you did when you realized you were going to be the president of the United States?
“The win was a great evening, and I wasn’t that surprised because I could see the crowds that we were getting. But winning was a great evening in this country, and a very popular event. I received a lot of phone calls, from China, from Russia, from Israel, from many, many different countries, in the case of Israel from [Prime Minister] Bibi Netanyahu, and responded to a lot of calls from foreign leaders.”
Q: How different will America be in four or eight years?
“Hopefully it will be a much [more] peaceful world; it won’t be torn the way it is right now. But I’d like to see a world of far greater peace than we have right now because right now there is a lot anger throughout the world.”
Q: Greater peace also the Middle East?
“Yes, that is one of the places that truly is torn up. It has been devastated by war for many, many years. “
Q: On multiple occasions we spoke of your views on Israel and your determination to be Israel’s friend. Can you share your general plan for improving Israeli-American relations after the past eight years?
“Well, I think we are going to have a better relationship. The deal with Iran was a disaster for Israel. Inconceivable that it was made. It was poorly negotiated and executed. Everything about that deal was something. … You know, as a deal person, I understand all sides of deals. I understand good deals and bad deals, but this deal is not even comprehensible. Beyond comprehension. And you see the way Iran has reacted; unlike reacting as they should, which is being thankful for President [Barack] Obama for making such a deal, which was so much to their advantage. They felt emboldened even before he left office. It is too bad a deal like that was made.”
Q: What is your biggest takeaway from your meeting with PM Netanyahu in September? People say you have good chemistry. Is that true?
“We do. We’ve always had good chemistry, and he is a good man. He wants to do the right thing for Israel. He would like peace; I believe that he wants peace and wants to have it badly. I have always liked him.”
Q: How soon will you decide on the issue of relocating the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and are you expecting something in return from Israel. Does Israel need to do anything in order for such a move to take place?
“Well, I want Israel to be reasonable with respect to peace. I want to see peace happen. It should happen. After all these years. … Maybe there is even a chance for a bigger peace than just Israel and the Palestinians. I would like to see a level of reasonableness of both parties, and I think we have a good chance of doing that.”
Q: And the embassy?
“I am thinking about the embassy, I am studying the embassy [issue], and we will see what happens. The embassy is not an easy decision. It has obviously been out there for many, many years, and nobody has wanted to make that decision. I’m thinking about it very seriously, and we will see what happens.”
Q: We heard from Washington this week that settlements are not an impediment to the peace process. I guess this is an issue you and Prime Minister Netanyahu are going to discuss?
“They [settlements] don’t help the process. I can say that. There is so much land left. And every time you take land for settlements, there is less land left. But we are looking at that, and we are looking at some other options we’ll see. But no, I am not somebody that believes that going forward with these settlements is a good thing for peace.”
Q: Will we see America condemn Israel a lot during your presidency?
“No, I don’t want to condemn Israel. Israel has had a long history of condemnation and difficulty. And I don’t want to be condemning Israel. I understand Israel very well, and I respect Israel a lot, and they have been through a lot. I would like to see peace and beyond that. And I think that peace for Israel would be a good thing for the Israeli people, not just a good thing, a great thing. And I think it is time.”
Q: You always speak about making good deals. Don’t the Palestinians have to make concessions as well?
“Yeah. They do. Absolutely. It has to be good for everybody. No deal is good if it is not good for everybody, and we are in that process, and we will see what happens. People have been in that process for many decades, and it has been going a long for a long time. So many people think it cannot be made. I have very smart people that … say a deal can’t be made. I disagree with them. I think a deal should be made, and it can be made.”
Q: It has recently been reported that you want to isolate Iran and make sure that it no longer has close ties with Russia. How would you do that and what can Israel do to help?
“Well, I don’t know where that was reported. I don’t believe I have ever said that to anybody. I just think Iran has not appreciated the unbelievably good deal that [President] Barack Obama gave them. I don’t think in terms of isolation. I don’t think in terms of anything right now with respect to Iran other than that they were extremely ungrateful for a deal that was made — that should have never been made.”
Q: But since it is a multilateral deal it cannot be ripped up?
“I don’t want to comment on that.”
Q: You recently imposed new sanctions on Iran after it held a ballistic missile test, and said that nothing is off the table. Can Iran be pressured successfully?
“We will see what happens with Iran. I don’t want to comment on Iran. [There are] many different thoughts on Iran, both good and bad. I don’t want to comment on Iran. I don’t talk about what I’m planning, I’m not one to sit back and tell everybody what I’m going to do. So I’m not going talk about Iran. But again, I think they should have treated the United States with far greater respect than they have for the great deal they were able to negotiate with a group of people that didn’t have a clue.”
Q: But they are not the good guys in the region. They are the bad guys now.
“Well, they are causing a lot of havoc in the Middle East, there is no question about that.”
Q: The Pentagon is supposed to draft a new plan to eliminate Islamic State. Do you have a general sense of what this new strategy might be?
“I have a feeling, yeah, but I don’t talk about it to newspapers. I’m not like other administrations that say, ‘This is what we are going to do and this is when we are going to do it.’ Sure, we have a plan. ISIS is evil and bad and we have a plan.”
Q: Concerning Israel, do you plan on visiting us?
“At some point, I will visit Israel, absolutely.”
Q: And Mr. [Jared] Kushner is coming?
“Sure, I would think so.”
Q: Finally, Mr. President, do you have anything to say to the Israelis?
“I have great respect for the Israelis, great respect for Israel. We’d love to see peace. We think it would be very, very good for the Israeli people, and we want a peace that would be everlasting — not just a peace that is going to be good for three months and then the fighting starts again. So I just hope that both primary parties to the peace [process], the Palestinians and the Israelis, can be open-minded and see that we can get something done. I think it is absolutely good for both parties.”
Q: Thank you very much, Mr. President.
“You are doing a good job and we love Israel.”