Trump’s Trip

President Trump is planning to visit Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican before attending a NATO meeting on May 25. What can we expect from those visits?

The Saudis, Israelis and Palestinians are falling all over themselves to sing the praises of President Trump. (They are all terrified of what Trump might say or do.) So we can expect three joint communiques telling us about great progress in combating terrorism, solving the Palestinian statehood problem and building a peaceful, thriving Middle East.

Pope Francis’s reaction was refreshingly different. The Catholic News Service of May 4 writes, ‘Pope Francis, on his return flight from Egypt April 29, told reporters that he had not yet been informed by the Vatican secretary of state’s office about a request for an audience from U.S. officials. But he added, “I receive every head of state who asks for an audience.”‘

It’s hard to imagine two individuals who have less in common than Pope Francis and President Trump. Pope Francis is a man of great humility, with great concern for the poor and the oppressed of this world. His life style is ascetic. As for judging President Trump by these criteria, read Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) Chapter 5 Mishneh 7.

Saudi Arabia is President Trump’s first Middle East destination. Commenting on Trump’s visit, the Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir stated (Reuter’s May 4), ‘Speaking to reporters after the Trump administration said the president would visit Riyadh as well as Israel later this month, Adel al-Jubeir said Trump had a high probability of succeeding in his efforts to secure a peace deal with Israelis and Palestinians because of his “fresh” approach.’

We expect an announcement of a huge arms sale to Saudi Arabia. This should not be a threat to Israel because all US arms sales in the Middle East are constrained to ensure that Israel retains a qualitative edge in weapons. It will be very interesting to see if there are any changes in the Saudi parameters for a Palestinian state. There will be a declaration of a joint front against terrorism (Iran). Incidentally, the Iranian Presidential election takes place on May 19, three days before President Trump’s visit. President Rouhani is by far the least bad of the candidates.

Next comes the visit to Israel. The Times of Israel (May 7) reports, ‘Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyhau on Sunday declared his support for US President Donald Trump’s efforts to renew Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, ahead of a visit to the region by the American leader. “The president wants to examine ways to renew the peace process with the Palestinians. I share this desire and the citizens of Israel share this desire; we want peace,” he said.’

As for the Palestinians, the May 8 issue of Times of Israel notes, – ‘Nabil Shaath {an adviser to Abbas} praised the US leader as someone whose stances could shift. “President Trump is a very different character than Mr. Obama. He is tough and willing to voice out his position. He is also willing to change. He is a man who calculates,” Shaath said.’

What great breakthroughs can we expect on Palestinian statehood? Just what will the fresh approach touted by the Saudi foreign minister accomplish? The Israeli press expects nothing.

Barak Ravid (Haaretz May 4) put it nicely, ‘Nineteenth century French journalist and author Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr was the one who in 1849 coined the phrase, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” That constitutes a pretty accurate description of what happened at the joint press conference given by U.S. President Donald Trump and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the White House on Wednesday.

Or, to paraphrase a famous quip by the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir on the eve of the Madrid Conference in 1991: The sea is the same sea, the Palestinians and Israelis are the same Palestinians and Israelis and the American brokers are the same American brokers.’

‘After Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Donald Trump is the fourth president to try to achieve a historic peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. He’s the fourth president to ask Israel to restrain its construction in the settlements, the fourth president to appoint a special envoy for the peace process and the fourth president to meet with the Israeli prime minister and Palestinian president, call on them to renew direct talks and declare that he wants to mediate between the parties.’

It is indeed the same Palestinians. As the Jerusalem Post of May 3 notes, ‘Abbas said he looked forward to working with Trump in order to “come to that deal, to that historical agreement to bring about peace.” But he laid out familiar terms that have become increasingly unpalatable for Israelis: A sovereign state with its capital in east Jerusalem, and its borders based on lines dating back before the 1967 war. “It’s about time for Israel to end its occupation of our people and our land,” Abbas said. “We are coming into a new opportunity, a new horizon, that would enable us to bring about peace.”

‘Abbas also expressed confidence that the fate of Palestinian refugees and of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails will be resolved based on “existing international laws and agreements.” For years, PA leadership has demanded a right to return for Palestinians displaced by the creation of Israel– a nonstarter for the Israelis– and that Israel release Palestinians convicted of murder and terrorism, which they believe amount to political indictments.’

Abbas doesn’t really believe that there will be any ‘right of return’ for Palestinian refugees. In the Al-Jazeera leaks he stated (Haaretz January 24, 2011), “On numbers of refugees, it is illogical to ask Israel to take 5 million, or indeed 1 million,” Abbas said, according to the details of the Palestine papers. “That would mean the end of Israel.”

Interestingly, that same article of 2011 mentions Palestinian reactions to declaring Israel a Jewish State. ‘The newly disclosed papers also detail that the Palestinians were willing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state – despite recent declaration to the contrary. “If you want to call your state the Jewish State of Israel you can call it what you want,” Erekat said to Israeli negotiators, telling his own staff in private negotiations that it was a “non-issue.”‘ The article is reprinted in the complete version of this newsletter.

Just as it is the same Palestinians, it’s the same Netanyahu. He talks about his great desire to make peace but will do as little as possible to change the status quo. He may have made a serious tactical error by embracing Trump so completely. After stating that Trump is the greatest friend of Israel, it will be very hard for Bibi to refuse any concessions that Trump may demand.

With both sides deferring to President Trump, we expect an announcement of renewed negotiations between Abbas and Netanyahu (assuming that Netanyahu is not indicted before the Trump visit). However, it is difficult to imagine a resolution of the conflict.

About the Author
Richard Chasman, 1934-2018, was a member of the Modern Orthodox community in Chicago. Professionally, he was a theoretical nuclear physicist. Richard, who described his perspective as "centrist," wrote a newsletter for more than 20 years called "Chovevai Tsion of Chicago," on subjects of interest to the Modern Orthodox community.
Related Topics
Related Posts