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No PR Victory for Trump or Netanyahu, but a Shoulder to Cry on in Trying Times

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U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 5, 2018.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 5, 2018.Credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu got the brief moment of Oval Office mutual gratification they had both been looking forward to.

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Clad in matching ties, their wives in complementary outfits, the Israeli premier showered the U.S. leader with praise for last December’s Jerusalem capital declaration and the decision to inaugurate the new U.S. Embassy on the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding in May He even promis that Trump will be enshrined in history alongside Cyrus the Great, Lord Arthur Balfour and U.S. President Harry Truman for doing so.

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But for the media in both Israel and the United States, Monday’s White House lovefest was hardly a big moment.

In America, it was a brief blip on the radar screen, barely noticeable in the tornado of damaging headlines swirling around the embattled leaders of both countries – a meeting “shrouded in scandal” as CNN put it

The main focus of U.S. headlines regarding the meeting was a White House decision to allow Jared Kushner to be present, despite the fact that Trump’s son-in-law and special adviser had his top-secret security clearance removed last week.

Since that decision was made, Kushner’s ability to continue to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace effort has been shrouded by doubt, with many reports saying his days at Trump’s side may be numbered.

Kushner’s circle has been pushing back on these reports, insisting that his downgraded clearance would be sufficient to continue in his Mideast role.

Late last week, NBC News reported that federal investigators on the team of Special Counsel Robert Mueller were looking into whether conversations that Kushner had during the transition period, dealing with his family’s real estate debts, had any influence on his policy decisions in the White House.

And on the same day of the meeting, more stories came out regarding sweeping Mueller subpoenas for the records of all major campaign officials – presumably in search of more evidence of potential collusion with Russia.

But even the Kushner angle didn’t focus real attention on the Trump-Netanyahu meeting. The U.S. media was too busy with the growing feeling of chaos in the White House, the latest details in the Russia scandal and other allegations of Trump misdeeds – like a report in the Wall Street Journal that the $130,000 in alleged hush money paid to former porn star Stormy Daniels by Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, had been flagged as “suspicious” and reported to the Treasury Department.

On top of this, there were deep concerns that Trump is sparking a trade war, following his surprise announcement of tariffs on aluminum and steel – in a move that has put him at odds with Republican congressional allies.

Though the meeting drew more attention in Israel, the real spotlight was on the decision of Netanyahu’s spin doctor and confidant, Nir Hefetz, to turn state’s evidence and hand over recordings of Netanyahu and his wife Sara. Haaretz reported that Hefetz’s testimony relates to several of the corruption investigations involving Netanyahu and his circle of aides, including the so-called Case 4000.

The stunning new development in this case, which involve Netanyahu, Israeli telecom giant Bezeq and its news site Walla, hit the news precisely when the prime minister would have wanted the eyes of the world – and particularly the eyes of Israelis – to be focused on his role as a world leader and his warm relationship with the U.S. president.

Instead, they were seeing him in a position Netanyahu obviously despises but is probably getting used to – as the target of a seemingly unending series of police investigations, and someone whose closest aides and allies seem to be turning away from him, leaving him isolated.

As the Mueller investigation continues to progress, that’s a feeling Trump is getting used to as well.

And so, while neither Netanyahu nor Trump seemed able to pull a major public relations victory out of their fifth meeting as the leaders of their respective countries, perhaps they were able to get a little friendly sympathy and support.

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