Opinion

Does Trump Understand About Israel?

Maybe he does understand the difference between Jews and the State of Israel, and is teaching Netanyahu to stick only to the business of the country he heads.

U.S. President Donald Trump, right, reacts while Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli's prime minister, speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, Feb. 15, 2017..
Pete Marovich/Bloomberg

1948 was an important year for Costa Rica, no less than it was for Israel. A few months after the establishment of Israel, in Costa Rica they did away with the army. At the press conference with U.S. President Donald Trump, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mentioned in passing Costa Rica as a model for the way he sees a Palestinian state, when he tries to imagine the two-state solution.

Once it was Andorra, which is also an independent and sovereign nation without an army. Now it is Costa Rica. The change, one can guess, is simply an attempt to speak in a language and with examples that Trump can understand. Whos heard of Andorra after all; what are we, Europeans?

It seems that all through Netanyahus speech that Trumps lack of understanding served as a basic assumption for him. And to awaken him from his real estate illusion, as if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was only business, Netanyahu explained to him the way you explain to Americans: The Chinese are called Chinese because they are from China. The Japanese are called Japanese. And the Jews are called Jews because they came from Judea. Maybe at the next press conference Netanyahu will be so kind as to explain why the Palestinians are called Palestinians.

The next time it will also be possible to clarify this entire matter of the Holocaust. It seems Trump is not quite sure that the Holocaust occurred before the founding of Israel. I can think of no other state thats gone through what theyve gone, and of survival in the face of genocide. We will never forget what the Jewish people have endured, said Trump.

At the same time, it would be nitpicking on Netanyahus part: Before, after, what does it really matter, its all business, isnt it? Or as he himself phrased it: The art of the deal. The very same art of the deal that dictated Netanyahus silence concerning everything to do with American Jews, who are suffering from a new outbreak of anti-Semitism. The same art of the deal in which they will be forced to make do with the promises that Trump will love them.

Trump avoided expressing support for Netanyahus two conditions for a peace agreement: recognizing Israel as a Jewish state and Israeli military control over the entire territory. Trump ignored the question of military control. This is forgivable in light of the hints about a possible regional agreement, which would involve many great, beautiful, wonderful countries. If they intend on redrawing the map, the talks on armies can be put off.

But he made his position on the recognition of the Jewish state quite clear: He made do with the Palestinian recognition of the State of Israel. Theres no way a deal can be made if theyre not ready to acknowledge a very, very great and important country, said Trump.

These may be just words, but it does not sound like what Netanyahu is demanding from the Palestinians. It is always possible to say that Trump is ignorant and stupid and does not understand the difference between the demand to recognize the State of Israel, as the PLO, Egypt and Jordan have done, and the conceptual trap that Netanyahu and MK Tzipi Livni have woven expressly to block any agreement; and which today most Israelis are trapped inside of it: Recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

On the other hand, maybe Trump is not so stupid, and not ignorant at all. Maybe he understands the trap quite well. Maybe he understands the difference between Jews and the State of Israel, and is teaching Netanyahu to stick only to the business of the country he heads. He has a Jewish daughter, a Jewish son-in-law and Jewish grandchildren. You can call him an anti-Semite all day long, but it will not be true. These are simply two things that cannot go together.

Trumps presidency may still become a therapeutic chapter for the Jews: starting with their attitude toward the remembrance of the Holocaust, continuing through the use they make of anti-Semitism, and ending with their lack of willingness to agree to clear borders around their political identity.