In his extraordinary press conference with Donald Trump on Wednesday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a hard time wiping the smug smile off his face, with some justification. For the first time in his political career, Netanyahu was given a royal welcome at the White House. If Barack Obama only did the bare minimum in his honor, Trump gave Netanyahu the best reception possible. He even went out of his way to thank and praise Netanyahu’s wife Sara, ensuring his revered status in the Netanyahu household in particular and in Israel as a whole for many months to come.
But Netanyahu’s hubris does not necessarily bode well for the future. From the days that he rashly opened up the tunnel to the Kotel and sparked deadly riots, through his overconfident handling of the Marmara affair that led to disruption of ties with Turkey to his arrogant and ultimately failed effort to intervene in American politics in order to stop the Iran nuclear deal, when Netanyahu is euphoric it’s a good time to check the bomb shelters. As the Book of Proverbs warns: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” When Netanyahu is on a high, the crash is never too far behind.
Nonetheless, Netanyahu had good reasons to celebrate on Wednesday night. Instead of Obama, who often found it hard to hide his disdain, Netanyahu was received by a grateful Trump who seemed only too happy to distract himself with something other than the scandal engulfing his administration in the wake of the resignation of his national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Instead of Obama, who fancied himself no less knowledgeable about the intricacies of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than Netanyahu, the prime minister found himself facing a president who knows less than nothing and who is, ostensibly at least, an empty vessel that Netanyahu can try and fill with his well-known shticks and tricks. Finally, Netanyahu can deliver his sermons about the good Jews and the bad Arabs without having to look at Obama’s sourpuss face. His ultra-right, black or white messages were well received by Trump’s entourage, though it's doubtful whether the president, with his notoriously short attention span, will be able to stomach them for very long.
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Supporters of a peace agreement with the Palestinians had a tough night, for sure, but at least they can console themselves with Trump’s impromptu turn to Netanyahu to “hold off with settlements for a while” and with his continued lip service to achieving a solution to the conflict. This, however, cannot compensate for the harsh blow dealt to the two-state solution, which Netanyahu steadfastly refused to endorse, either because he was bowing to pressure from his coalition partners on the right or because he was using the first opportunity to renege on the Bar Ilan speech, which Obama had foisted on him anyway. Trump, on the other hand, not only retracted American support for a two-state solution, he distanced himself from the need to take any position whatsoever, preferring a sort of nihilistic formula of one state, two states, whatever, I don’t care. It was a night to remember for messianics, annexationists, Hamas fans and supporters of a non-Jewish democratic Israel. For the Palestinian leadership, on the other hand, Netanyahu and Trump provided good reasons to feel abandoned, like an orphan.
Nonetheless, the eulogies for the two-state solution might be a bit premature. Even if Israel and the U.S. will no longer have to pretend that they support it, Arab states, the supposed candidates for a regional peace deal, will make sure to remind them. Trump seems surprised that Netanyahu brought up the plan for regional peace in public, claiming that it was a novel concept. It’s nothing of the sort, of course, though clueless Trump would have no way of knowing that - he probably thinks the Oslo Accords have something to do with Norwegian oil drilling in the North Sea. Arab states may seek closer strategic ties with Israel and may be overjoyed with Trump’s supposedly tough line towards Iran, but they won’t join any peace initiative without a Palestinian fig leaf, which will ultimately include the resuscitation of the two-state formula.
But if Netanyahu and Trump threw some crumbs at leftists and peaceniks so they needn’t get too despondent, this was not the case with American Jews, who were stabbed in the back by Netanyahu just before he threw them under the bus. Given an opportunity by the courageous Israeli reporter Moav Vardi to finally convey some faint criticism of the anti-Semitism that has sprouted under Trump’s wings or to utter a mild expression of empathy with the fears and anxieties of American Jews, Netanyahu preferred to shamelessly lick Trump’s boots and to curry favor with his staff, including its white supremacists, and to grant them a kosher certificate and total clemency. For Netanyahu, the self-proclaimed leader of the Jewish people who pounces on any manifestation of anti-Semitism in countries less enamored with his charms, it was a moment that will live in infamy.
Trump’s reaction to the same question was even stranger. After brandishing his Jewish daughter, son in law and grandchildren - who apparently render him above suspicion of malice towards Jews - Trump mumbled something about how love will conquer all, a formula that he may hazily recall from his youth. It was a stark reminder of the dysfunctional setting for the press conference, eerily convened before the two leaders actually met, rather than after. Netanyahu’s presence, after all, did not change the fact that the president of the U.S. is mostly ignorant about world affairs, apparently unable to tell fact from fantasy and singularly devoted to making himself great again, as if he wasn’t before. When Trump indicated that the possible compromise of his national security adviser was nothing compared to the people who leaked the information about him and the newspapers that published it, Netanyahu watched and smiled, with glee and possibly envy. But Trump’s battiness should serve as a warning signal: As long as Netanyahu praises Trump as he did on Wednesday, as long as he doesn’t cross him or insult him, the prime minister will continue to be welcomed and embraced. But when he won’t - and that moment will come - he will fondly remember the great opening night he had in Washington, from which he could only fall.
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