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As Trump Hints at Making Mideast Great Again, Netanyahu Sets Red Lines

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President Reuven Rivlin, U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the arrival ceremony in honor of Trump at Ben Gurion International Airport, May 22, 2017.
President Reuven Rivlin, U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the arrival ceremony in honor of Trump at Ben Gurion International Airport, May 22, 2017.Credit: Evan Vucci/AP

As U.S. President Donald Trump arrived in Israel on Monday and spoke of creating an alliance of regional powers – essentially, making the Middle East great again – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sounded a cautionary tone, setting out apparent red lines for possible future talks with the Palestinians.

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"We have before us a rare opportunity to bring security and stability and peace to this region and to its people, defeating terrorism and creating a future of harmony, prosperity and peace," Trump said. "But we can only get there working together, there is no other way."

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The president was speaking at an official reception minutes after Air Force One touched down on what is believed to be the first direct flight from Saudi Arabia to Israel.

In welcoming Trump on the tarmac at Ben-Gurion International Airport, Netanyahu said that Israel extended its hand in peace to "all our neighbors, including the Palestinians."

Both Israeli and Palestinian officials have spoken of the possibility of resuming talks without preconditions. Netanyahu, however, said that the peace Israel seeks with the Palestinians is "a genuine, durable one, in which the Jewish state is recognized, security remains in Israel's hands, and the conflict ends once and for all."

In his remarks, Trump stressed the importance of regional cooperation in a common fight against terrorism and in the service of a more stable, prosperous and peaceful Middle East.

"In this land so rich in history, Israel has built one of the world's great civilizations, a strong, resilient, determined, and prosperous nation," he said, adding, "Now we must work together to build a future where the nations of the region are at peace, and all of our children can grow, and grow up strong, and free from terrorism and violence."

Trump said his talks in Saudi Arabia over the weekend had given him new reasons for hope: "I met with [Saudi] King Salman and with leaders from across the Muslim and Arab world. In that visit we reached historic agreements to pursue greater and greater cooperation in the fight against terrorism and its evil ideology."

"Mr. President," Netanyahu said, "you just flew from Riyadh to Tel Aviv. I hope that one day, an Israeli prime minister will be able to fly from Tel Aviv to Riyadh."

In his speech on Sunday in Riyadh, billed as an address to the Muslim world, Trump appeared to echo his January inaugural address, which spoke of a great nation rising again from what he termed at that time "carnage."

Both in Saudi Arabia and in Israel, the theme of the greatness of ancient civilizations in contrast to the barbarity of modern terrorism was sounded again and again.

"We now face a humanitarian and security disaster in this region that is spreading across the planet. It is a tragedy of epic proportions. No description of the suffering and depravity can begin to capture its full measure," Trump said in Riyadh, in a reference to damage being wrought by terror groups in recent years. "The true toll of ISIS, Al-Qaida, Hezbollah, Hamas, and so many others, must be counted not only in the number of dead. It must also be counted in generations of vanished dreams."

However, the president added, presenting a vision of a regional renaissance, "The Middle East is rich with natural beauty, vibrant cultures, and massive amounts of historic treasures. It should increasingly become one of the great global centers of commerce and opportunity."

This region, said Trump on Sunday, "should not be a place from which refugees flee, but to which newcomers flock."

He declared that this "untapped potential of the Middle East, this tremendous cause for optimism, is held at bay by bloodshed and terror. There can be no coexistence with this violence. There can be no tolerating it, no accepting it, no excusing it, and no ignoring it."