Mixed mes­sages from a diplo­matic love­fest in Wash­ing­ton

The Canadian Jewish News (Montreal) - - International - Ron Kam­peas JTA, WASH­ING­TON

One state. Flex­i­bil­ity. Two states. Hold back on set­tle­ments. Stop Iran. But wait. In the Age of Trump, ev­ery post-event anal­y­sis re­quires a dou­ble take. Not so much “did he mean what he said?” – he ap­pears to mean it, in real time – but “will he mean it next week? To­mor­row? In the wee hours, when he tweets?”

So what can we take away from the Feb. 15 Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu-don­ald Trump sum­mit?

A lot. Trump’s in­ter­locu­tor on Feb. 15, Ne­tanyahu, has a more evolved rep­u­ta­tion for con­sis­tency – in­deed, for co­her­ence. And de­spite his renowned ca­pac­ity for pere­gri­na­tions of thought, Trump of­fered enough sub­stance in his re­marks – for in­stance, con­firm­ing a pivot in U.S. pol­icy away from an em­pha­sis on a two-state so­lu­tion as an out­come to peace talks.

So, with con­sid­er­able trep­i­da­tion, we ven­ture into last Wed­nes­day’s sum­mit.

One state, two states

At first blush, Trump ap­peared to head­ily em­brace the prospect of one state – al­though it’s not clear what kind of sin­gle state he meant.

Comb through what he said, and his depar­ture from the poli­cies of his three pre­de­ces­sors was in­deed sub­stan­tive, but not nec­es­sar­ily rad­i­cal.

“So I’m look­ing at two-state and on­es­tate, and I like the one that both par­ties like,” he said, as Ne­tanyahu chor­tled.

“I’m very happy with the one that both par­ties like. I can live with ei­ther one,” Trump said. “I thought for a while the two-state looked like it may be the eas­ier of the two. But hon­estly, if Bibi and if the Pales­tini­ans – if Is­rael and the Pales­tini­ans are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best.”

Trump is not en­dors­ing a sin­gle state – he’s kick­ing it back to the par­ties. Fig­ure it out, Trump says. Trump’s three pre­de­ces­sors have also said that the fi­nal sta­tus must be de­ter­mined by the Is­raelis and the Pales­tini­ans, but also have made clear that the only work­able out­come is two states.

What’s the dif­fer­ence? Ne­tanyahu in­di­cated that the dif­fer­ence is lever­age for Is­rael: if the Pales­tini­ans want their own state, it must ad­here to Is­rael’s terms.

Ne­tanyahu has al­ways said he be­lieves a Pales­tinian state should rec­og­nize Is­rael as a Jewish state, and that it must be de­mil­i­ta­rized and ac­cept Is­raeli se­cu­rity con­trol of the West Bank. Un­til now, those were his pre­ferred out­comes. Last Wed­nes­day, he at­tached a new de­scrip­tor to those terms: “pre­req­ui­sites.” That leaves lit­tle wig­gle room for the Pales­tini­ans.

Ne­tanyahu also did not use the term “two states.” He said in­stead that oth­ers have cau­tioned him that a state de­prived of se­cu­rity con­trol is less than a state. In­stead of push­ing back against the ar­gu­ment, he said it was a le­git­i­mate in­ter­pre­ta­tion, but not the only one.

That re­lieves pres­sure from Ne­tanyahu’s right flank in Is­rael, which has pressed him to seize the tran­si­tion from the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion – which in­sisted on two states and an end to set­tle­ment – to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and ex­pand set­tle­ment.

The kid in the candy shop

Ne­tanyahu was like the prover­bial kid in the candy shop. He couldn’t have made clearer his relief at the depar­ture of pres­i­dent Barack Obama.

“I think that’s a change that is clearly ev­i­dent since Pres­i­dent Trump took of­fice,” Ne­tanyahu said re­fer­ring to Trump’s tough talk on Iran. “I wel­come that. I think it’s – let me say this very openly – I think it’s long over­due.”

Trump, to Ne­tanyahu’s ev­i­dent plea­sure, em­braced one of the Is­raeli’s favourite causes: Pales­tinian in­cite­ment. Obama had also rou­tinely men­tioned the is­sue, but Trump made end­ing in­cite­ment his front and cen­tre ex­pec­ta­tion of the Pales­tini­ans, and de­scribed it in the dark terms Ne­tanyahu favours.

“I think the Pales­tini­ans have to get rid of some of that hate that they’re taught from a very young age,” he said. “They’re taught tremen­dous hate.”

Ne­tanyahu told Is­raeli re­porters that he also asked Trump to rec­og­nize the Golan Heights as Is­raeli ter­ri­tory, a re­quest that would have been po­litely ig­nored had he raised it with Trump’s pre­de­ces­sors. He was clearly hope­ful about his prospects with Trump; the pres­i­dent was “not shocked” by the re­quest, Ne­tanyahu said.

What does Trump want in re­turn?

“I’d like to see you hold back on set­tle­ments for a lit­tle bit,” Trump told Ne­tanyahu. “We’ll work some­thing out.”

Ne­tanyahu ap­peared shocked. Trump asked Ne­tanyahu for a tem­po­rary set­tle­ment freeze, the kind of re­quest that when Obama made it sent Ne­tanyahu and his gov­ern­ment into parox­ysms of re­sis­tance. (Ne­tanyahu in­sisted to re­porters later that his shocked re­ac­tion was a put-on – he said it was a page out of Trump’s bi­ble for real­tors, The Art of the Deal, but he did not ex­plain how look­ing caught off guard helped him.)

Ne­tanyahu did an­other dou­ble take when Trump said, re­fer­ring to his hopes for a com­pre­hen­sive peace with the Pales­tini­ans and with Is­rael’s Arab neigh­bours, that “it might be a big­ger and bet­ter deal than peo­ple in this room even un­der­stand.”

Ne­tanyahu, no­to­ri­ously cau­tious in how he ap­proaches diplo­macy, did not seem en­thu­si­as­tic. “Let’s try it,” he mut­tered. Trump no­ticed: “Doesn’t sound too op­ti­mistic,” he said to laugh­ter.

Those snap­shots of a non­plussed Ne­tanyahu il­lus­trated the Is­raeli leader’s co­nun­drum: he is throw­ing all-in with Trump.

The re­quest to stay set­tle­ment build­ing, to go for the big deal, one that Trump said would likely re­quire Is­rael to “show more flex­i­bil­ity than they have in the past” – what could that mean fur­ther down the line? Trump’s proven char­ac­ter­is­tics in­clude a ca­pac­ity for un­pre­dictabil­ity, a de­mand for def­er­ence and a love of dis­rup­tion.

Mix those qual­i­ties with talk of one state and “greater flex­i­bil­ity,” and the prospects of what Trump de­mands from Is­rael are more open-ended than with any pre­vi­ous pres­i­dent – for bet­ter or worse.

Love may drive us apart

An Is­raeli re­porter asked Trump about a spike in anti-semitic in­ci­dents since his elec­tion. Trump, af­ter yet an­other bizarre di­gres­sion on the breadth of his elec­toral col­lege win over Hil­lary Clin­ton, re­minded ev­ery­one that he had Jewish friends and fam­ily and con­cluded that “you’re go­ing to see a lot of love.”

And Ne­tanyahu, who usu­ally is not re­luc­tant to em­pha­size the vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties of Di­as­pora Jews, backed up Trump.

“I’ve known the pres­i­dent and I’ve known his fam­ily and his team for a long time, and there is no greater sup­porter of the Jewish peo­ple and the Jewish state than Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump,” he said. “I think we should put that to rest.”

That’s hardly a salve to an Amer­i­can Jewish com­mu­nity deal­ing al­most weekly with un­set­tling echoes of past slights and in­tol­er­ance – most re­cently when the White House omit­ted any men­tion of Jews from a Holo­caust com­mem­o­ra­tive state­ment.

Jonathan Green­blatt, the Anti-defama­tion League’s na­tional di­rec­tor, re­act­ing to Trump’s state­ment, did not men­tion Ne­tanyahu, but was clearly not in a mood to put any­thing to rest. Trump “missed an op­por­tu­nity to de­cry the rhetoric of hate that seems to be surg­ing on­line and in the real world,” he said. “In­ten­tional or not, this em­bold­ens anti-semites.”


Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, left, and Don­ald Trump at a press con­fer­ence.

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