Analysis

Trump Did His Homework on One Touchy Issue Before Meeting Netanyahu

Trump didn't display much expertise about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but he was clearly briefed about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's spouse.

Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu, along with their wives, Melania Trump and Sara Netanyahu, hold a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, February 15, 2017.
SAUL LOEB/AFP

Donald Trump didn’t display much familiarity or expertise with the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Wednesday.

“I’m looking at two-state and at one-state, and I like the one that both parties like,” he said at the news conference, beside embarrassed, giggling Netanyahu. He said the U.S. “will encourage a peace and, really, a great peace deal.”

Highlights From the Trump-Netanyahu Press Conference Haaretz.com

The U.S. president looked as though he didn’t have a clue. The regional approach he was talking about sounded hollow, as though he were reciting a headline from a piece of paper someone had handed him.

But about one issue, sensitive and exciting, the new president had obviously done his homework. The public gesture to Sara Netanyahu was clearly the result of meticulous briefing by his advisers, and White House Israeli desk people.

Trump had been briefed about how desperately she needed public recognition, a display of affection and attention, and he gave them to her generously.

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Bibi and Sara, who, when in Israel, spend many hours in moldy investigation rooms and gray courtrooms, had a rare moment of pleasure and glory. The two wives even got to sit on the sofas in the Oval Office, where the officials usually sit.

Netanyahu went through the public part of the visit with flying colors. He was so moved by the warm, pampering event, after eight years of Obama chill and grudge, that he uncharacteristically stammered and got entangled in his words here and there.

He couldn’t resist, as usual, delivering long lectures and preaching at the Palestinians and the UN. His lengthy answers, in contrast to the president’s muttering, did not include the phrase “two states for two peoples” – an idea he had supported numerous times as the only solution that could prevent a binational state.

No wonder the right wing in Israel rejoiced yesterday. Even Trump’s semi-proposal, semi-jab to “hold back on settlements for a little bit” didn’t extinguish the joy in Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s constituency.

The chairman of Habayit Hayehudi will most certainly take credit – perhaps justly – for the fact that the only mention of the two state idea appeared in the reporters’ questions. Netanyahu avoided it like the plague.

He’ll return to a right wing eager to annex and take over and apply sovereignty.

It is not at all certain that he will be comfortable to maneuver in a situation in which nobody seems to be stopping him from making irrevocable historic moves in the West Bank and everything is up to him and him alone.