Opinion

Trump the Impossible. Trump the Asteroid

There's a theory that it would take an event as impossibly unlikely, as humanly uncontrollable, as potentially cataclysmic as an asteroid striking the earth, for Israelis and Palestinians to be able to make peace

U.S. President Donald Trump centre, participates in an arrival ceremony at Ben-Gurion International Airport, Monday, May 22, 2017, in Tel Aviv.
U.S. President Donald Trump centre, participates in an arrival ceremony at Ben-Gurion International Airport, Monday, May 22, 2017, in Tel Aviv. Evan Vucci/AP

There is a theory which suggests that it would take an event as impossibly unlikely, as humanly uncontrollable, as potentially cataclysmic as an asteroid striking the earth, for Israelis and Palestinians to be able to make peace.

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Something, that is, which would change every subject, jolt and alter and, for a time at least, invalidate long-ingrained patterns of thought and blood feud and politics and faith.

Something as wholly implausible as Donald Trump becoming president.

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But it doesn’t stop there. What’s the chance that an asteroid, having survived space debris, course changes, and a fiery descent though the atmosphere, would strike the Holy Land? 

About the same as a president who is surrounded, advised and supported by ultra-high-profile donors to West Bank settlements and to Benjamin Netanyahu, targeting as a primary foreign policy goal, a just and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Which is why, in the brief time which Trump has budgeted to his Middle East tour, I have already read 20 separate articles by learned and perceptive individuals, who all agree that there is no chance of this at all.

Except …

I would have left all of this alone, were it not for Trump’s conversation in Saudi Arabia with visiting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi.

Inviting Trump to visit him in Egypt, Sissi told the president that “You are a unique personality, that is capable of doing the impossible.”

Donald Trump then made that face. 

It’s likely the same exact face – a mashup of delight and determination and, perhaps, delusion – which Trump made when someone once told him, way back when, that he should run for president.

And there’s one other thing: Asteroids do strike here every now and then.

The last time was in 1991. An impossible series of events unfolded on a daily basis. 

It began when U.S.-led allied forces attacked Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The dictator, having vowed to incinerate Israel in retaliation, sent dozens of powerful long-range Scud missiles into Tel Aviv and other Israeli population centers.

Then came the impossible part. The missiles caused widespread damage but nearly no casualties. Moreover, the men in charge in Israel - ultra-hawkish then-prime minister Yitzhak Shamir and his defense minister, Moshe Arens – held their fire, to the shock of their entire constituency, for the whole of the Gulf War.

The consequence, later that year, was the diplomatic impossibility of the Madrid Peace Conference. An unthinkable occurrence, following a similarly unthinkable U.S.-Israel spat over settlement expansion – brought Israeli officials face to face with Palestinian, Jordanian, Syrian and Lebanese negotiators.

Not only did the America-Soviet-sponsored conference greatly expand the number of countries which came to recognize Israel, among them China, India, Qatar, and Morocco, it led to the secret talks which yielded Israeli-Palestinian mutual recognition in 1993 and a full peace with Jordan the next year.

People here who’d grown accustomed to having seen everything, over and over, and who were sure that nothing would ever change or even diverge ever so slightly from an anguished, horizon-less, unchangeable norm – unchangeable, that is, except to get worse – were shocked into, well, an unaccustomed silence and, even, paying attention.

Such was the case, also, with an asteroid that hit with a shock in November, 1977. The right-wing government of Likud founder Menachem Begin received word that the president of Israel’s most formidable enemy, Egypt, wanted to visit Israel and even address the Knesset.

It made no conceivable sense. It was so unfathomable a concept that then-IDF chief of staff Motta Gur publicly suggested that the whole proposal might be a trick.

The consequence was a full peace treaty under which Israel returned all of the Sinai peninsula to Egypt, a withdrawal which represented 88 percent of all the land Israel captured in the 1967 war.

It must be said that, given the staggering range of obstructions to any negotiated peace between Israelis and Palestinians, the probability of the right asteroid striking the right place at the right time in any of our lifetimes appears, at this point, zero.

Except …

If all of this is so impossible, why is the right – both in Israel and on American outlets like Fox News – taking such pains lately to hammer home the fake history that the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan were a failure?

And if all this is so impossible, why is the right working overtime to remind all of us – as Sheldon Adelson’s Israel Hayom newspaper did ahead of Trump’s arrival in Israel on Monday – that “We need peace, not a peace ‘process.’”

If all this is so impossible, why are rightist politicians so insistent that the status quo in the West Bank – where Israelis enjoy full rights and Palestinians are subject to military rule, abject search and seizure, and disenfranchisement – is irreversible and permanently sustainable?

If Donald Trump is nothing else, he is the embodiment, for the likes of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson – of the admonishment to be careful whom you bet on.

Bets down, folks.