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Donald Trump To Address Plans For U.S.-Israel Relationship

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It's traditional for U.S. presidential candidates from both parties to express their unwavering support of Israel during the election season. A key stop on the campaign trail is this week's AIPAC conference - the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. All of the presidential candidates are scheduled to speak to the group with the exception of Sen. Bernie Sanders, who cited a scheduling conflict. On the Republican side, Donald Trump will address the conference tomorrow night. Several groups are organizing boycotts of his speech. One of Mr. Trump's standard talking points is that he is, quote, "a neutral guy" on the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For more, we called up Aaron David Miller. He is a former Middle East negotiator for the State Department. Now he's a scholar at the Wilson International Center in Washington. And he told us Trump's position is unusual.

AARON DAVID MILLER: On the Israeli-Palestinian issue, he has defied the conventional laws of political gravity. He talks about his neutrality. He was booed in December at the Republican National Jewish Coalition meeting when he refused to answer the question about whether he'd move the American Embassy, which is now in Tel Aviv, to Jerusalem, although he later amended that position. So I think he's been rather unconventional on an issue that most politicians during election season are quite conventional on, trying to compete as to who is more sensitive to the needs and concerns of Israel.

MARTIN: Let me ask you - convention hasn't exactly worked when it comes to trying to formulate some long-term peace deal in the Middle East. So is there something to be said for getting someone involved in this process who says that he's going to approach this as an outsider?

MILLER: I just think that Mr. Trump is going to confront the same set of challenges that American presidents and secretaries of state have confronted on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. I mean, this is partly - that is to say, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians - a real estate deal. But it is not the kind of real estate deal that Mr. Trump is used to negotiating. I wouldn't blame Mr. Trump for not succeeding, or Hillary Clinton, should she become president. The issue really is the intractable nature of the problem and the lack of ownership that both Israelis and Palestinians at the moment have in this process.

MARTIN: Hillary Clinton is also speaking this week. What is her legacy with AIPAC?

MILLER: The issue is - I think goes beyond legacy with any American Jewish organization. I mean, Hillary Clinton's a Clinton, after all, and her husband to this day is admired and respected by both Israelis and Palestinians for the fraught effort that he made, however unsuccessful, to negotiate at Camp David in July 2000 a permanent-status agreement. He has demonstrated a pro-Israeli sensibility, and frankly, she is skilled at this as well. I accompanied her to Leah Rabin's funeral in the year 2000, and I was struck, frankly, on how adept and skillful she was in handling and relating to a wide variety of Israelis. I think she'll have very little problem demonstrating her pro-Israeli credentials at AIPAC next week.

MARTIN: And I'll just end where we began. Considering the candidates who are at play right now and who are the front-runners, will either of them be able to move the needle?

MILLER: My own sense is if matters between Israelis and the Palestinians remain where they are now, and I suspect that they whether it's a he or a she in the White House, or an R or a D, the same fundamental problems that have created an impasse in progress toward a two-state solution will remain galactically (ph) formidable next year.

MARTIN: Aaron David Miller is a Middle East analyst and vice president for new initiatives at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars. Thanks so much for talking with us.

MILLER: Rachel, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.