JERUSALEM, Israel – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his biggest headache vis-à-vis the upcoming visit of U.S. President Donald Trump is one of America's top Jewish leaders.
World Jewish Congress (WJC) President Ron Lauder, recently elected for his third term, is a close friend of President Trump and many other movers and shakers on the world scene.
Until about five years ago, Netanyahu and Lauder enjoyed a good relationship. They parted company after Israel's Channel 10 broadcast a program demeaning the Netanyahu family. As the second largest shareholder in the station, Netanyahu expected Lauder to intervene, but that didn't happen.
Netanyahu said he was "angered and distressed" at Lauder's intervention in Israel's dealings with the U.S. administration, calling him his "biggest challenge to overcome" before Trump's visit on May 22.
Lauder has a long and intimate friendship with President Trump, with some intimating he's the administration's unofficial Middle East envoy.
Israeli author Isi Leibler, who has also known Lauder for more than two decades, says the American leader has dreamed of playing a prominent role in securing a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. Lauder, who's met with the P.A. leader numbers of times, said he's convinced Abbas is prepared to make "concessions" he's never agreed to before.
In an op-ed in Sunday's Jerusalem Post, Liebler said he failed to dissuade or even convince Lauder of Israel's realities on the ground. Lauder, he said, spoke with "an almost messianic fervor" of the peace he believes is within grasp. Leibler asked if his "moderate" friend, Mahmoud Abbas, would agree to some basic tenants to achieve a sustainable peace with Israel.
Would he be open to coexisting with Israel as a Jewish state? Would he agree to end payments to convicted terrorists and their families? Would he stop inciting hatred in P.A. schools, mosques and cultural activities? Would he be willing to discontinue naming streets, schools, city squares and cultural centers after terrorists?
Would he drop the demand for the so-called right of return to descendants of Palestinian Arabs who, at the behest of Arab leaders, fled Israel in 1948?
So how do Israelis feel about the president's upcoming visit? Some are skeptical.
Aaron Lerner, founder and CEO of the media group IMRA, questioned Trump's desire "for dignity and self-determination for the Palestinians," saying "basically any security measure can be interpreted as being undignified."
"Any expression of the connection of Jews to holy places offends Palestinian 'dignity,'" Lerner wrote. "Taken to its ultimate conclusion, Palestinian dignity is offended by the very existence of the Jewish state."
One hi-tech professional, whose daughter and youngest son are both in the IDF, told CBN News he had "mixed feelings" because he doesn't think much has changed.
"I think the new administration, although quite capable, still lacks the grasp of the situation," he explained, saying he hoped that Bibi [Netanyahu] would be able to advise Trump to understand what Abbas is saying.
"This is just another step in what he [Abbas] hopes will be the destruction of Israel," he said. "The president may succeed in making the greatest deal that no one else has ever been able to make, but the obstacle is always there.
"They don't want to live side by side with us," he said. "They have never accepted the fact that we're here to stay. We must seek peace and prepare for war."
Meanwhile, Netanyahu issued a statement Sunday in response to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's remarks on the U.S. embassy.
"Israel's position has been stated many times to the American administration and to the world. Moving the American embassy to Jerusalem would not harm the peace process. On the contrary, it would advance it by correcting an historical injustice and by shattering the Palestinian fantasy that Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel," the statement read.
The Palestinian Authority and its supporters in the Arab world are against the move, claiming it will destabilize the region.
Abbas, meantime, is on another whirlwind tour to convince international leaders he's ready to make a deal.
Over the weekend, the P.A. leader was warmly welcomed in Germany and Russia, where he said he's ready to sit down with Netanyahu without preconditions and even ready to sign a peace deal that would include land swaps.