HE condemned terror and expressed confidence that peace could be achieved between Israel, the Palestinians and the wider Arab world. He spoke out against Iran and pledged ‘Never Again’. And he won plaudits from both his Israeli and Palestinian hosts.
But did Donald Trump’s whistlestop trip to the region actually achieve anything or was it simply a chance for him to escape the whirlwind of hostile headlines back home and bask in the adoration that a president usually expects during the honeymoon period following his inauguration?
Accompanied by his wife Melania, and Jewish daughter and son-in-law Ivanka and Jared Kushner, the so-called leader of the free world spent less than 48 hours in Israel and the West Bank, cramming in trips to the homes of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, visits to the Kotel, the Israel Museum and Yad Vashem, and Bethlehem where he held talks with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas.
In what has been interpreted as a swipe at PA incitement, Trump insisted, “Peace can never take root in an environment where violence is tolerated, funded and even rewarded. We must be resolute in condemning such acts in a single unified voice.”
On his hopes for a settlement to the conflict, he said, “I had a meeting this morning with President Abbas and can tell you that the Palestinians are ready to reach for peace. I know you’ve heard it before. I am telling you — that’s what I do. They are ready to reach for peace
Similarly, he said, “In my meeting with my very good friend, Benjamin, I can tell you also that he is reaching for peace. He wants peace. He loves people. He especially loves the Israeli people. Benjamin Netanyahu wants peace.”
Notably though, there was an absence of any reference to a two-state solution or any details on how peace could be achieved or what he personally would do to advance it.
A triumphant trip then or not? While Netanyahu and Abbas both hailed Trump –Netanyahu stating “working with you, I believe we can advance a durable peace”, and Abbas envisaging that Trump “will go down in history” as the president who secured peace, the verdict elsewhere was mixed.
Nachman Shai, a Zionist Union politician and chair of the Knesset’s Lobby for US-Israel Relations, was upbeat when talking to The AJN during the trip.
“I refuse to see the visit just as a gesture — there must be something behind it,” he said.
Shai added that if Netanyahu cooperates with a peace initiative and finds himself with a coalition crisis because the right-wing Jewish Home party bolts the coalition, the Zionist Union is “ready to help him politically.”
It would keep the Netanyahu government in power, Shai said.
But others were more pessimistic about Trump’s prospects for bringing peace — not only politicians but also religious leaders, including the Jerusalem-based representative of the Vatican, which was the next stop on the President’s itinerary.
Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the top Vatican representative in Jerusalem, told The AJN, “We don’t have very high expectations.”
Pizzaballa, who was speaking just before Trump touched down, added, “Usually every new administration at the beginning has big projects about the Middle East then everything finishes — we will see.”
For full coverage of Trump’s Israel trip, see this week’s AJN.