Analysis

Israel Isn’t a Bling Nation That Can Impress Trump. And That’s a Good Thing

Watching reports from Riyadh, poor Netanyahu knows that nothing he can produce will ever come close to the show the Saudi royal family just put on for the U.S. president

Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (C) waits to receive U.S. President Donald Trump for the Arab Islamic American Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 21, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

Donald Trump’s arrival in Israel on Monday morning will be rather underwhelming. After landing at the airport, he will use his personal helicopter, Marine One, to travel to the parking lot of First Station, the restored old Turkish train station. But while the station itself is now a pleasant venue with restaurants and coffee shops, the parking lot is a ramshackle affair, surrounded by garbage dumpsters and rusty fencing. That’s right. There is no helipad in central Jerusalem and Israel’s capital will make a poor comparison to the opulence and glamour of Riyadh, where Trump spent the last two days.

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He’ll then be whisked off to the elegantly understated King David Hotel, but it may not make much of an impression on him either. The low-slung pink limestone structure may have history and undeniable style, but it’s simply not one of the shiny superstructures the Donald would ever call a hotel. It certainly won’t project on its façade, like the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh did, a giant image of Trump’s smiling face, alongside that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and David Friedman , the new United States Ambassador to Israel attend an event marking the 50th anniversary of Israel's capture of East Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War, opposite the Old City wall and near the Tower of David in Jerusalem May 21, 2017.
POOL/REUTERS

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Poor Netanyahu. Watching the reports from Riyadh over the last 48 hours, he’s had the sinking feeling that nothing he can produce will ever come close to the show the Saudi royal family just put on for Trump. This realization made him so angry that he blew up during a ministers' meeting when it transpired that not all members of his cabinet were planning to turn up at Trump's reception at Ben-Gurion International Airport (though it’s hard to see how the likes of Miri Regev and Ofir Akunis will improve the event). But then again, the guest does like sycophancy, so perhaps Netanyahu is on to something. It’s not just that Israel can’t rival the golden palaces and sword dances of the House of Saud. Simply put, Israel, with its small buildings and cramped spaces, is probably the least impressive place for a president who loves bigly yuuuge shining things.

Israeli soldiers roll up an Israeli Defense Force cyber unit flag as they take part in a dress rehearsal of the arrival ceremony which will be held to welcome U.S. President Donald Trump upon his arrival, at Ben Gurion International Airport in Lod, Israel May 21, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
AMIR COHEN/REUTERS

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It’s usually easy for Israel to put on a good show for the intelligent statesman on his first visit. For a start, they can take him to one of the high-tech hubs and present a few snazzy start-ups. There’s even one right next to the makeshift helipad at First Station. But one can imagine Trump’s eyes glazing over minutes into the explanation of any cutting-edge innovation. Even the sums of money made in high-tech exits are unlikely to impress an old-fashioned businessman who made (and lost) billions through tangible real estate and glitzy branding. Just the very idea of making a profit out of ideas is alien. The closest he ever got to selling ideas was the Trump University scam.

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They can shown off sexy Israeli technological advances, but that’s dangerous as well. Obama appreciated the demonstration of ReWalk's artificial exoskeleton, which enables paralyzed people to walk. He was so overcome by one of the demonstrators who had regained mobility that he hugged her. This might not work with Trump, who enjoyed mocking a disabled reporter on the campaign trail.

Jerusalem has no skyscrapers and no fancy towers (and even those in Tel Aviv are tiny compared to the ones Trump loves). The view from Masada was supposed to be Israel’s breathtaking backdrop for his grand speech, but that event was canceled when it turned out that his chopper couldn’t land on top of the cliff and he would have to ascend by the plebeian cable car. Trump scales heights only by golden escalator or private elevator. Even stairs challenge him.

And while we’re on the subject of choppers, they could have done the standard tour of Israel from the air, where the visiting politician gets a view of the narrow space between Israel’s borders along with an easily digestible intelligence briefing from a senior officer. But any contact between Trump and the Israeli intelligence community is not on the cards right now, for obvious reasons.

There is, however, one mini-tower in Jerusalem that Trump would appreciate. The Holyland luxury apartment complex is a big and ugly blot on the city’s skyline, built on the site of a demolished architectural gem and carried out by abusing all proper planning procedures – just the way Trump likes his buildings. But the Holyland story ends with a corrupt prime minister who was indicted and is now serving time in prison, so that's probably not a good idea either.

Trump will be making the requisite stop at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial to lay a wreath. There has been some grumbling about the fact that he will spend only fifteen minutes there, not enough for even a cursory tour of the museum. But that’s probably a good thing as we know from his infamous remarks on Senator John McCain that he has a low opinion of people in prison camps. If he stays there long enough, he may just call Auschwitz a “Holocaust center” or compare the circumstances of the inmates there to the “witch hunt” against him, which is the worst in history.

There is one piece of Israeli architecture that Trump has already expressed his admiration for. On the campaign trail, when he promised his supporters to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, he would often say, “And if you think walls don't work, all you have to do is ask Israel.” However, Netanyahu is hoping to keep any mentions of the Palestinians to a minimum during his meetings with Trump, so he probably won’t be taking him on a tour of the West Bank separation fence.

Netanyahu may be dispirited that his guest will be leaving unimpressed. But for all its faults, the fact that Israel isn’t the sort of bling nation that would excite Donald Trump is probably a good thing.