politics to go

President Trump in Israel: Day of historic firsts


Before he arrived in Tel Aviv on Monday, many Israel supporters were angry at President Trump because of the disagreement with the advance team about the status of the Kotel being a part of Israel and because the promised U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem was not happening yet. However, by the time he left, supporters of Israel may have still been disappointed about the embassy remaining in Tel Aviv but were ecstatic about the president’s words and, more importantly, his actions in Israel. 

President Trump’s visit was more than an American leader visiting his country’s closest ally in the Middle East, it was a day of historic firsts, with an undercurrent of contrast between this president and his predecessor. 

On the tarmac of Ben Gurion airport, Israeli President Rivlin opened the welcoming ceremony with “Mr. President, we are happy to see that America is back in the area — America is back again.” This was not only meant as a welcoming to Trump, but a reminder that President Obama pivoted away from traditional U.S. allies such as Israel and the more moderate Sunni states, like Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt, and toward the Shia terrorist state of Iran.

President Trump visited Israel in his first foreign trip since he took office, something no other president had done before, an honor that was not lost on the Prime Minister Netanyahu in his welcoming speech.

“Your visit here, Mr. President, is truly historic,” Netanyahu said. “Never before has the first foreign trip of a president of the United States included a visit to Israel. Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you for this powerful expression of your friendship to Israel.”

Netanyahu went on to praise Trump’s speech in Saudi Arabia the day before, which signaled a 180-degree shift from Obama’s weak-on-terror pro-Iran policies.

“Mr. President, yesterday in Saudi Arabia you delivered a forceful speech of clarity and conviction. You called on all nations to drive out terrorists and extremists. You called for the forces of civilization to confront the forces of barbarism.”

Netanyahu also pointed out another first: that Trump’s commute from Riyadh was the first publicly reported airplane trip directly from Saudi Arabia to Israel.

And then another first: No other President had visited the Kotel while in office. Thus, Trump’s visit to the Western Wall can be seen as a de facto acceptance of Israel’s control of the holy site. Donning a kippah, the president received a lesson about the site’s holiness as he entered the Kotel plaza. He walked up to the wall, took a moment to reflect, and stuck a message in the wall.

Later, the president and FLOTUS found themselves in the prime minister’s residence. Before the two leaders met they did the traditional “photo-op/some words” in which Netanyahu was effusive in praise of Trump’s criticism of Iran. Statements made after their meeting made news, with Netanyahu saying that “I also look forward to working closely with you to advance peace in our region, because you have noted so succinctly that common dangers are turning former enemies into partners. And that’s where we see something new and potentially something very promising.

“It won’t be simple. But for the first time in many years — and, Mr. President, for the first time in my lifetime — I see a real hope for change.”

Trump answered by thanking the prime minister for his hard efforts toward making peace:

“I believe that a new level of partnership is possible and will happen — one that will bring greater safety to this region, greater security to the United States, and greater prosperity to the world. This includes a renewed effort at peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and I thank the Prime Minister for his commitment to pursuing the peace process. He’s working very hard at it. It’s not easy.

I’ve heard it’s one of the toughest deals of all, but I have a feeling that we’re going to get there eventually, I hope.”

There was yet one more White House first. As the Whitehouse.gov website was about to steam Monday’s post-meeting comments by Trump and Netanyahu, it splashed a screen notice that the location of the meeting was Jerusalem, Israel (see photo on previous page). To my knowledge no president has ever recognized that Jerusalem was in Israel.

Can President Trump negotiate a peace between Israel and the Palestinians — or, as he called it, “the ultimate deal?” I’d strongly advise you never to put money on anyone being able to convince the Palestinians that peace is worthwhile (Arafat had a great deal and walked away, Olmert gave Abbas a similar deal and he said no). But this may be the time.

President Trump is the master of the deal. And the closeness between Netanyahu and Trump may help. One of the reasons the talks directed by Obama, Kerry and Indyk talks failed was that Netanyahu justifiably didn’t trust them. Now, it seems, Netanyahu trusts Trump.

After President Trump met with Palestinian Authority President Abbas on Tuesday, his statement lacked the positive spirit embodied in his reparks following a meeting with Netanyahu. It’s talk of Abbas’ commitment to peace was followed by a lecture on the horrors of terrorism.

Trump’s Israel trip ended with an address at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem which may have been his best speech in the Holy Land (you’ll find the full text on page 8). He began by recognizing the historic connection between Jerusalem, the Kotel, and the Jews.

“Jerusalem is a sacred city. Its beauty, splendor, and heritage are like no other place on Earth. What a heritage. What a heritage. The ties of the Jewish people to this Holy Land are ancient and eternal. They date back thousands of years, including the reign of King David whose star now flies proudly on Israel’s white and blue flag. …

“Yesterday … I laid a wreath at Yad Vashem, honoring, remembering, and mourning the six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust. I pledged right then and there what I pledge again today: the words ‘never again’.” …

“I stand in awe of the accomplishments of the Jewish people, and I make this promise to you: My administration will always stand with Israel.

While Israel had heard from other administrations that they would always stand with Israel, for some reason this time it seemed more believable. Eight years of President Obama’s anti-Israel policies may have stretched out the bond, or even weakened it — but it didn’t break the bond.

A new president, with a commitment to Israel’s well-being and future that goes beyond campaign lip-service meant to get donations from supporters of Israel, will actually strengthen that bond.