Analysis

Trump Rounds Off His Israel Trip With an Empty Zionist Speech

Trump wanted to make sure no one mistakes him for Obama and to please his friend Benjamin, and accomplished both goals ■ The coalition plows on, undeterred

US President Donald Trump, accompanied by Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, arrives at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on May 23, 2017.
AFP / Mandel Ngan

Following U.S. President Donald Trump’s short but sweet visit to Israel, two conclusions can be reached. First, it was important to him that the prime minister, his friend “Benjamin” Netanyahu, be happy. Second, it was even more important to him to prove to the world that he isn’t Barack Obama.

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He succeeded magnificently on both counts. Nor did he embarrass himself. On the contrary, after the first three stops on his trip – Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Palestinian Authorityhe looked, for the first time, like a statesman. All the snafus and embarrassments were on the Israeli side.

Trump’s speech at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem was outstandingly Zionist and pro-Israel, and accordingly vapid and devoid of any real content. Pedants on the right had expected tidings about the U.S. Embassy in Israel. Nada; its workers will continue to see the Mediterranean coastline from their windows. Pedants on the left had hoped to hear the president get to the heart of the ultimate “deal” – the need to establish a Palestinian state alongside the Jewish one. They, too, were disappointed. 

The left consoled itself with the fact that the forgotten word “peace” has come back into vogue, the right with the fact that the three words “Palestinian state” and “settlements” were never uttered. And both sides were glad to hear that one day, a great, beautiful change would happen here.
Anyone who thought this visit would prompt changes in the governing coalition was disappointed. It will continue to sail smoothly – including the routine spats between Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett – toward the Knesset’s long summer recess, which begins in another two months. The fourth Netanyahu government can count on at least three full years in office, until the end of the first quarter of 2018. At that point, Israeli coalitions usually begin the countdown to the end. 

It’s reasonable to assume that some sort of peace process will develop in the coming months, perhaps in the form of a peace conference under Trump’s auspices. Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas will both come. Neither has any interest in fighting with an American president during his first year in office. 

Trump, who considers himself an “artist of the deal,” was clearly convinced that both sides are prepared to take significant steps toward a deal. But how deeply into this swamp, in which his predecessors drowned, will he be willing to dive? Does he have the patience, commitment, attention, enthusiasm and religious faith that, say, Bill Clinton did?

And that’s without even mentioning the troubles hovering over his head in Washington, or the similar troubles hovering over Netanyahu, who has begun to understand that police will recommend indicting him in at least one case, over taking gifts from businessmen. The road to that desired or threatening peace is full of potholes.