Trump greets Netanyahu with smiles, handshakes and a jolt or two

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump gave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a couple of jolts when they met for the first time on Wednesday as leaders of the United States and Israel.

U.S. President Donald Trump (R) laughs with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a joint news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 15, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

If there were differences, the two men – each immersed in political turmoil on the home front - did all they could to mask them during a White House news conference brimming with smiles, asides and efforts to show how much they like each other.

“Bibi and I have known each other a long time -- a smart man, great negotiator,” said Trump, referring to the 67-year-old Israeli leader by his nickname.

Netanyahu was equally effusive in response: “There is no greater supporter of the Jewish people and the Jewish state than President Donald Trump,” he said, referring to the 70-year-old U.S. president who took office on Jan. 20.

Trump went some distance to embrace Netanyahu’s views, upending decades of U.S. Middle East policy by dropping insistence on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Netanyahu sought to demonstrate personal chemistry with the American property-mogul-turned-politician, an acquaintance since the 1980s, especially after eight years of awkwardness and tensions with his predecessor, President Barack Obama.

But Trump caught Netanyahu off-guard, at one point saying that if a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was going to be reached, “Both sides will have to make compromises.”

Turning to Netanyahu, he said, “You know that, right?”

Netanyahu looked momentarily startled and replied, chuckling, “Both sides.”

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Later, while responding to a question about settlements, a particular point of tension during the Obama years, Trump said, “I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit.”

Again, Netanyahu’s face registered surprise before he offered an ironic smile.

“We’ll work something out,” said Trump, who has appointed his son-in-law Jared Kushner as his special adviser on the Middle East.

“I think we’re going to make a deal. It might be a bigger and better deal than people in this room even understand. That’s a possibility. So let’s see what we do.”

“Let’s try it,” Netanyahu said.

Studying his reaction, Trump quickly interjected: “That doesn’t sound too optimistic, but he’s a good negotiator.”

In a play on the title of Trump’s 1987 best-selling book, Netanyahu responded, “That’s the art of the deal,” drawing laughter from the audience.

Near the end of his comments, Netanyahu sought to show how well he knows Kushner, whose father, Charles Kushner, has donated generously to Israeli causes.

“Can I reveal, Jared, how long we’ve known you?” said Netanyahu, looking to Jared Kushner, 36, who was sitting in the front row, next to his wife, Ivanka Trump.

“Well, he was never small. He was always big. He was always tall,” Netanyahu said, implying he had known Kushner since he was a baby.

Editing by Howard Goller and Leslie Adler