As most readers surely know, Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Trump had their highly-anticipated first meeting on Wednesday. There was much angst on the right here in Israel before the meeting, for Trump was putting out an ambivalent message and Netanyahu was saying he would endorse a “two-state solution.”
But in the end, things went swimmingly well, far better than many of us expected.
Prior to their private meeting, the two heads of state held a press conference.
A genuine warmth was evident between the two men; it set a tone that is positive and encouraging.
Trump even had Sara Netanyahu stand up so he could thank her for being so nice to his wife, Melania.
Beyond tone, the content of remarks was also positive.
Most significantly, Trump actually backed away from endorsing that “two state solution” (emphasis added):
“So I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one.”
This radical shift in US policy is the stuff of headlines.
And he said more:
“The United States will encourage a peace…We’ll be working on it very, very diligently…But it is the parties themselves who must directly negotiate such an agreement. We’ll be beside them; we’ll be working with them.”
This suggests he is not going to try to shove his vision down our throats. There is great relief here on that score.
Enthused MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi), for example (emphasis added):
“It’s now our turn, and our duty, to decide what’s best for Israel.”
This does not mean that Trump told our prime minister to go ahead and apply sovereignty as we wish, because that was certainly not his message.
What he actually said was:
“I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit. We’ll work something out.”
“I think that the Israelis are going to have to show some flexibility, which is hard, it’s hard to do.”
To this, I respond: Mr. President, Israel has shown enormous “flexibility” over the years, to no good end.
At least he acknowledged the need for Palestinian Arab flexibility as well:
I think the Palestinians have to get rid of some (some?) of that hate that they’re taught from a very young age…They’re taught tremendous hate. I’ve seen what they’re taught. And they have to acknowledge Israel — they’re going to have to do that. There’s no way a deal can be made if they’re not ready to acknowledge a very, very great and important country…”
Netanyahu, for his part, did not come out explicitly against that “two state solution,” or against the creation of a Palestinian state. That is simply not his style.
What he did, instead, was let Trump lead and then skirt the issue, which is far better than we had expected.
He did speak about Judaea and Samaria as being Jewish heritage.
And he was clear on this much (emphasis added):
“I believe that the issue of the settlements is not the core of the conflict, nor does it really drive the conflict…It has to be resolved in the context of peace negotiations.”
This is precisely what the Oslo Accords say, no matter that much of the world has been screaming, and continues to scream, otherwise.
As to the screams of the world on this, I share Ya’akov Kirschen’s marvelous cartoon:
Netanyahu also said it all depends on how we define “two states,” and that there are many (conflicting) definitions. He then proceeded to lay out his conditions for an agreement, which, he says have not changed:
“…the recognition of the Jewish state and…Israel’s security control of the entire area. Otherwise we’re just fantasizing. Otherwise we’ll get another failed state, another terrorist Islamist dictatorship that will not work for peace. ..”
He is one-thousand percent correct.
Please understand that – while he does not explicitly say so – the second condition rules out a “two state solution.”
A sovereign state has no obligation to allow the military of a neighboring state access to all of its territory. There is no such thing. If he speaks about needing to control the entire area from a security perspective, he is talking about less than a sovereign state.
In a meeting with the press after his talk with President Trump, Prime Minister Netanyahu indicated he wasn’t interested in a “one state” deal either, because he didn’t want to bring 2.5 million Arabs under Israeli control.
“I do not want them to be our subjects,”
Where we are headed, then, is towards some sort of third alternative, possibly involving a Palestinian Arab autonomy that is less than a full state.
I see this as an evolving situation, with the Trump policy still in formation. Again and again during the press conference, the president suggested that they have to see how things work out, that it must be discussed further, etc.
There is a strange affliction that affects all in-coming US presidents: in spite of enormous evidence to the contrary, they become convinced that they and they alone will be to make “peace” between Israel and the PA.
Trump is suffering from this affliction, but he has an exceedingly mild case. He doesn’t “know” exactly how it is going to work, and he doesn’t feel compelled to dictate to Israel on what must be done. He wants to dialogue, and explore. This is greatly to his credit.
If he is sincere in wanting dialogue, and ready to keep his eyes open, and intent on expecting genuine flexibility of the PA (something that has not been demanded by previous administrations), then he is going to see that it’s a lost cause.
The PA is not going to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and is not going to stop teaching hate in its schools.
How long will it take before the president – who loves to negotiate a “deal” – will be able to throw up his hands and declare this an impossible situation. There are no parameters that will satisfy both Israel and the Palestinian Arabs.
Another question of significance is how totally our prime minister is going to attempt to adhere to what Trump has requested with regard to settlements, and to what degree he will assert the right, as head of a sovereign nation, to make independent decisions on behalf of that nation.
Trump’s request – and it was couched as a request and not a demand – was such a mild one compared to what we’ve encountered in the past. He even qualified it by saying,
“We’ll work something out.”
That is, he is suggesting that it is not a long term request.
With regard to this, Netanyahu indicated that (emphasis added):
“I think we also are going to speak about it [building], President Trump and I, so we can arrive at an understanding so we don’t keep on bumping into each other all the time on this issue.“
This suggests he will not move unilaterally here with regard to Judaea and Samaria, although he has indicated that building in Jerusalem will continue apace.
I find it reasonable for the short term that our prime minister does not wish to squander the extraordinary good will he has encountered in the White House, as long as he expects matters to be worked out in a manner that is satisfactory.
At present he certainly is not going to be receptive to plans for sovereignty, even in Ma’aleh Adumim, where there is a national consensus. He is going to be frustrating the nationalists who are so enthused at present.
It disturbs me that he is indicating that the “new settlement” he promised the residents of Amona might not be realized. This seems an injustice layered on top of other injustices that these people have already endured.
But there is one other issue of enormous – I would suggest overriding – significance must be mentioned in connection with the above: Iran.
While the press conference focus was on “peace negotiations,” both leaders did mention the tremendous risks Iran poses.
Netanyahu spoke about the fact that the Iranians write in Hebrew on their missiles that Israel must be destroyed. (Iranian ballistic missile below.)
While Trump spoke about the fact that the deal struck with Iran was one of the worst he has ever seen, and that he will never allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons.
There is no question that Iran was a key topic of conversation during the private meeting of the two heads of state.
Netanyahu has spent years attempting to call the world’s attention to the dangers of Iran, and facing off against a belligerent and willfully destructive Obama. Now there is a president who agrees with Netanyahu, and who is ready to take a stand.
I would suggest here that Netanyahu may feel that it is worth going along with Trump on issues of settlement building for a bit, so as to ensure a positive working relationship with the president.
And I will further suggest that in this instance Netanyahu may well be correct because he is developing a relationship of trust with Trump.
There is no greater danger to Israel or the world than Iran.
We already seeing the hysterical reaction to Trump’s suggestion that a paradigm other than “two states” might work. Much of the world – certainly including the UN and the EU – is wedded to that notion of “two states.”
I will be exploring other alternatives in the weeks ahead. People must begin to think more broadly and constructively.
Here I share an important article on this issue by Yishai Fleisher, international spokesman for the Jewish community of Hevron.
Please, read it and share it broadly (emphasis added):
“Therefore, most settlers say without ambivalence that the two-state solution is dead, and the time has come for a discussion of new options…
“Mr. Kerry’s mantra that ‘there really is no viable alternative’ to the two-state solution is contradicted by its manifest failure. With a new American administration in power, there is a historic opportunity to have an open discussion of real alternatives, unhampered by the shibboleths of the past.”