Trump has much to gain and little to lose; the reverse is true of Netanyahu.
By J. J. Goldberg / Forward
May 2, 2017
Israelis with ties to the Trump administration are reporting, according to political correspondent Tal Shalev of the widely read Walla news site, that the president wants to convene a “regional summit” of Middle East leaders this summer in Washington. Participants would include Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, along with Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The agenda would be based on the Saudi-led Arab Peace Initiative.
When Donald Trump visits Israel later this month, as he reportedly will do, he faces much to potentially gain and little to lose. The reverse is true of his host, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
For Trump, it’s an opportunity to show some statesmanship and gravitas — qualities he’s not widely associated with — in a friendly environment. It’s an opportunity to solidify his shaky relationship with the ardently pro-Israel Republicans in Congress, who’ve been repeatedly undermined or plain flummoxed by Trump’s unpredictable antics. And — who knows? — he just might make some progress where so many have failed: getting the Israeli-Palestinian deadlock unstuck. Strange things happen when Trump’s around.
Besides, if he tries and fails, it will simply end up being another implausible promise he’s made and then airily dismissed. We’re used to it.
The stakes are entirely different for Netanyahu. He spent political capital last year to see that a Republican would succeed Barack Obama, assuming that Israel could then sit back and enjoy the unconditional support and adulation. If Trump comes to town and dispenses the same tasty froth that George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan showered on Israel, Netanyahu comes out a winner. All the better if the president brings some new goodies — some new funding, perhaps even a plan, as rumored in some right-wing circles, to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.
Right now the prime minister badly needs a big win to soothe his prickly coalition partners. They’ve been needling him from the right for months for failing to stand firm on the principles of the Israeli right. He’s maintained and enforced the hated ban on Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount. He’s dismantled wildcat settlement outposts in the face of intense settler opposition. Most of all, he’s failed to end the chatter about Palestinian statehood and to initiate a formal West Bank annexation process, as the right is demanding ever more insistently.