Donald Trump is flying out of Israel right now, and the country is breathing a great sigh of relief. The word Israeli Jews use to describe Trump is “unexpectable,” but though there was plenty of awkwardness in the president’s gestures in the holy land, there was nothing unexpectable about his message. Trump’s highly-scripted statements were crafted to change not an iota in the outlines of the conflict.
“Not one state solution, not two states, everything stays the same,” an American with a Trump t-shirt just said grinning to me, on the streets of West Jerusalem.
Trump gave Benjamin Netanyahu what he wanted, a seal of approval to maintain the status quo and gesture after gesture to say that the Obama years are over. No, Trump didn’t say Jerusalem must be the capital of Israel, that was a disappointment, but he described Israel as a land of freedom for all religions (!) and said not a word about Palestinian suffering or occupation, let alone a two-state solution, during his supposed-policy speech today at the Israel Museum, with Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miri sitting happily in the audience.
The days of Obama’s mild criticisms of Israel’s human rights record are over. Trump vowed that the United States would always stand by Israel, and got a standing ovation from the Israeli cabinet, while Netanyahu got up grinning from his seat in the middle of the speech to shake Trump’s hand, as if they’d just executed a contract at a car dealership.
The symbolism of the visit has been everything Netanyahu wanted: that Trump came to Israel on his first foreign trip– as Obama did not–, that he visited the Western Wall in occupied territory– as no sitting president before him has–, that he stopped at Yad Vashem the Holocaust memorial and rekindled the flame there as Netanyahu put himself forward as the guardian of the Jewish people, and, best of all, that Trump made only a perfunctory visit to the occupied territories today, with none of the ceremony that has attended his every step in Israel, nor the two glamorous wives, either, and all but lectured Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas over his responsibility for terrorism in the wake of the Manchester attack last night.
The visit offered proof if anyone needed it that Trump has no idea what he is talking about when he speaks of the ultimate deal being peace between Israelis and Palestinians. His gaffes have been the only thing that gave this trip any life. Like his hamhanded note at Yad Vashem, as if it were the Rock n Roll hall of fame.
Or the selfie he allowed Oren Hazan, a rightwing member of Netanyahu’s party, to take of him at the airport yesterday even as Netanyahu was trying to pull Hazan away. No, Hazan is the subject of sex scandals, and water seeks its level; Trump seemed to enjoy the company.
Or there was the air of stiff discomfort Trump exuded at the Holocaust memorial and the Western Wall, too, openly looking to authorities and his son-in-law so that he would do the right thing. That would seem to describe his Middle East policy too. The unexpectable is turning out to be very expectable after all.