WASHINGTON – It took a little while, but in the end the winds of reality finally knocked on the doors of the White House. For the first time since U.S. President Donald Trump’s “ultimate peace deal” burst into our lives, even the dealmaker from Washington sounded very skeptical about its chances.
“The Palestinians, I think, are wanting to come back to the table very badly. If they don’t, you don’t have peace,” he said, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sat alongside him, grinning with visible pleasure. But the words thrown out into the room, like “peace,” “Palestinians” and “Iran,” concealed the real purpose of the event: Netanyahu had come to Washington to receive the gift-wrapped embassy in Jerusalem from his American friend and to convey that it was business as usual.
The two came to their fifth meeting battered and investigated. Although only a year has passed since their first festive meeting soon after Trump was sworn in, it was a year full of storm and scandal. From Netanyahu’s perspective, the visit was meant to be a refreshing breeze. In the words of Julie Andrews, he came to America for a few of his favorite things – a meeting with Trump, a speech to the masses at the flattering AIPAC convention, meetings on Capitol Hill and at UN headquarters. His playground. Perfect escapism.
But this week isn’t exactly playing out as Netanyahu had wanted, and the dissonance between the warm welcome in Washington and what awaits him in Israel has never been more dramatic. As the Netanyahus were awakening in their room at Blair House, the White House’s official guest house, only a few hours before the prime minister’s meeting with Trump, they learned that his close aide of many years, Nir Hefetz, was turning state’s evidence. Immediately after the meeting with Trump had ended, the headlines arose about the allegations from Hefetz’s questioning – of Hefetz reportedly saying that their son, Yair, “influenced decisions to the point of national irresponsibility” – and they hastened to formulate a response, instead of focusing on the post-meeting briefings that are customary.
On the host’s side, the meeting took place in the midst of a family crisis, starring the man meant to lead the struggling peace process, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who recently lost his security clearance but attended the expanded meeting. Ironically, Netanyahu used a related argument in response to the reports about his associate, Hefetz: “For seven years, Nir Hefetz has been totally excluded from intelligence, diplomatic or security information.”
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The rapid death of the peace deal even before its birth was also reflected in Netanyahu’s briefing after the meeting. The prime minister said the Palestinian issue took up “maybe a quarter of an hour” of the meetings, while the Iranian issue was the main topic (“Iran, Iran, Iran – that was the main issue”). He made it clear that “we didn’t see a draft of their peace plan and I can’t say in their name what there is or isn’t. They’ll decide when and what to release.” He added that he wasn’t given any timetable. When pressed on whether the issue of settlements came up, his answer wasn’t clear, but he did say there had been no demand to evacuate anything.
It seems that only the actual manager of the imaginary project, Jason Greenblatt, didn’t get the memo. He tweeted enthusiastically, “Serious, substantive meetings with Israeli PM @Netanyahu at the White House today—the PM and @POTUS [Trump] share a vision of a peaceful, prosperous Middle East!”