US President Donald Trump’s personal pledge to protect Israel from its enemies, particularly Iran, won him the hearts of his audience during his keynote speech at the Israel Museum on Tuesday afternoon.
“Israelis have experienced firsthand the hatred and terror of radical violence,” Trump said.
“Israelis are murdered by terrorists wielding knives and bombs. Hamas and Hezbollah launch rockets into Israeli communities, where schoolchildren have to be trained to hear the sirens and run to the bomb shelters – with fear, but with speed. ISIS targets Jewish neighborhoods, synagogues and storefronts. And Iran’s leaders routinely call for Israel’s destruction. Not with Donald J. Trump, believe me.”
Thunderous applause greeted his words. It lasted for almost a full minute.
Naftali Bennett talks to JPost about Trump's visit to Israel (credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
“Thank you,” Trump said four times, waiting for the applause to die down, before ad-libbing: “I like you too.”
Trump spoke to some 300 people, including Israeli ministers, politicians, business leaders, ambassadors and visiting dignitaries, including former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, US billionaire Sheldon Adelson and former Hawaiian governor Linda Lingle.
As the Israeli politicians waited for Trump to enter the museum’s small auditorium, decked with an Israeli and US flag, they spoke with reporters about the high and low points of Trump’s two-day trip.
National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) said that Iran had been the “main topic” of the visit, both on the president’s first stop in Saudi Arabia and in Israel, as Trump sought to create an common regional alliance to Tehran.
Iranian aggression all over the Middle East – in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Gaza – is the main threat for Israel for the Sunni Arab states, Steinitz said, adding: “I am happy that the US, finally after three or four years of appeasement of the Iranians, decided under the Trump leadership to create some kind of regional alliance.”
He was, however, concerned that the $110 billion dollar arms deal the US signed with Saudi Arabia during Trump’s visit could, in the future, harm Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region.
“No one can say in the Middle East what will be the Saudi position five or 10 years from now,” Steinitz said. “Therefore this is a matter of concern for Israel.”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi) spoke of his disappointment that Trump had not made good on his preelection pledge to move the US Embassy to Tel Aviv.
“I think it is time that the world community recognizes the laws of gravity. Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and will remain so undivided,” he said. “I am pretty confident that gradually the world will recognize Jerusalem as its capital,” and that “it’s unnatural that it has not happened yet.”
Trump’s trip, Bennett said, underscored the bond between Israel and the American people, even though he was not able to promise the Israeli people everything they wanted to hear.
Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud) said that Trump’s visit to the Western Wall was more important than relocating the US Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.
Hopefully this will happen, he said, but the embassy will “be moved to west Jerusalem, a place that is not in dispute. The Kotel and the Temple Mount are in a disputed area, in the Old City,” Hanegbi said.
By visiting the Western Wall, a US president was exposed for the first time to the love and the linkage the Jewish feel for their holiest sites, Hanegbi said, adding: “I believe that we heard an American president that loves Israel and understands Israel” and “is not going to change his commitment to this holy place.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Llkud) said Trump’s speech “was an expression of deep friendship to Israel and a fresh way of thinking,” particularly with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Unlike his predecessors, Hotovely said, Trump did not try to dictate the terms of any future agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. She was particularly pleased that Trump has spoken out against the Palestinian Authority payments to terrorists and their families, and that he did not criticize settlement building, “after so many presidents speaking of an agreement that should be reached between Israelis and Palestinians in a certain way, and only in one direction.”
MK Michael Oren (Kulanu), a former Israeli ambassador to the US, said Trump’s visit was a message of support and love for Israel. He added that the Trump administration created the possibility of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by removing the two key demands: a two-state solution to the pre-1967 lines, and a settlement freeze as a precondition for talks.
Instead, Oren said, Trump has given the Palestinians and Arab leaders incentives to come up with more appropriate formulas for peace-building in the region.
He added that no Israeli government could have met the demands set by the Obama administration, which put so many obstacles in the path of peace that progress was impossible.
During this visit, Oren said, Trump “removed those obstacles.”
Former foreign minister MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) said that Trump “needs to know that in Israel there is a majority to make a big deal, peace between us and the entire Arab world. I agree with the president that there is an opportunity here, but it is time for leaders to seize that opportunity.”
Livni said that “the trip to Israel is very important,” but that “no less important is the day after. This is the visit embracing Israel. We embrace the US and the president as well. Now it is time for policy making.”
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