WASHINGTON – There were lots of honors, lots of hugs, and a lot of chemistry at the White House press conference held Wednesday night by U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
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But along with the warm and fuzzy atmosphere there was a lot of ignorance, internal contradictions, political sloganeering and more than a few disagreements that were elegantly shoved aside.
Twitter was on fire after the press conference as tweeters on both sides of the Atlantic and from both sides of the political spectrum tried in both Hebrew and English to interpret the two leaders’ remarks, particularly Trump’s.
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But everything uttered by the U.S. president must be taken with a grain of salt. What was clearer than anything at the press conference is that Trump and his people have very limited, at best, familiarity with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and are very far from formulating a coherent strategy.
Trump stressed repeatedly that he wants a “deal” for Israel, the Palestinians and Arab states. But even after you discount the background noise it’s hard to understand how all the internal contradictions could be sorted out to realize such a goal.
One of the most significant things that Trump said related to the substance of the deal he wants to achieve. He breezily declared that as far as he’s concerned, the two-state or one-state solutions are all the same to him. He’ll go with the flow. All that’s left is the minor detail of getting the two sides to agree on something.
For the first time, a U.S. president has brushed aside the two-state solution and expressed support for the possibility of turning Israel into a binational state. Not Palestinian autonomy, as Naftali Bennett would like.
Not a state-minus, as Netanyahu would prefer. One Jewish-Arab state. This message is almost anti-Zionist. It’s doubtful that Trump himself understood the significance of what he said.
Palestinians who support one state were probably celebrating, while Theodor Herzl, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, David Ben-Gurion and Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook were turning over in their graves.
Yet Trump also said several things that are essentially the complete opposite, most notably when he addressed construction in the West Bank settlements and East Jerusalem.
Trump stood right next to Netanyahu and called on Israel directly and unapologetically to curb construction in the settlements. This makes it hard to see how the Israeli government can now build unrestrainedly in the West Bank, let alone annex anything.
When former U.S. President Barack Obama said the same thing to Netanyahu at their first meeting in May 2009, there was a major onslaught against him by the settler lobby in the media, the cabinet, and the Knesset.
When Trump said the exact same thing Wednesday, and was evasive regarding his commitment to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, the Israeli right began dancing, as thought the End of Days was coming true right before our eyes.
Netanyahu and Trump ostensibly presented an “alternative” diplomatic initiative at the press conference, one that goes from the outside in, starting with the Arab world and then moving to the Palestinian arena.
But Netanyahu tried the same thing during Obama’s first term as well as his second term. In both instances he discovered that while it sounds good, it’s not exactly realistic. No one has found an Arab leader willing to improve relations with Israel before the Jewish state makes progress with the Palestinians.
It isn’t clear whether Trump was really serious when he spoke of reaching a package deal in the Middle East. If the U.S. president and his advisers will really try to promote this, they’ll have no choice but to resolve the same contradictions that arose during the press conference.
One can assume that during the first visits by Trump’s envoys to Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Arab and European capitals, they will find out that talk of burying the Palestinian state is premature.
Every time Trump and his people ran up into reality since he took office they returned to reality – with regard to the relations with China, the Russian occupation of Ukrainian territory, and the moving of the embassy to Jerusalem. There is no reason to think that the same won't take place with regard to the two-state solution.