US President Donald Trump pauses as he announces his decision that the United States will withdraw from the landmark Paris Climate Agreement, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, US, June 1, 2017..
(photo credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)
To the flurry of both respectful and scoffing opinions on Trump’s trip to the Middle East, one must wonder why there is any doubt – not that he could succeed, but that he is at least up to trying.
In the South Carolina Primary he already spoke of neutrality between Israel and Palestine.
In contrast to president Barack Obama’s implacable calmness, Trump’s effusiveness and warmth for both Israel and Palestine and the Arab world – and their leaders – may be more appreciated in this world than on the coolly modulated American East Coast.
In emotionally wanting to move the US Embassy and in his skepticism about the Iran deal he may reassure Israelis about where his heart his.
But his still not moving the embassy or changing the deal, his putting rationality above his feelings, has been reassuring as well, as has his longstanding and consistent – but Israel-friendly and warm to its leaders – opposition to Israeli settlement expansionism.
Reassuring to the Palestinians and Arabs has been the Trump administration’s use of a map that shows Israel according to its internationally recognized legal boundaries instead of the map that has seen widespread use in Israel and constitutes incitement against Palestinians that portrays the country as from the sea to the river. Trump’s lawful map infuriated Israel’s sadly right-wing extremist Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, but Trump, like all previous US administrations, has so far held firm.
(Meanwhile the Palestinians use maps that don’t show Israel – in the same form of incitement that Shaked spurs on against the Palestinians and is widespread throughout Israel itself.) In other words, reassuring to the Arabs and Palestinians has been his sturdy adherence to decades of bipartisan American policy that until there is a peace agreement the Green Line remains valid and that this also means the legal fact is that Western Wall is on the Palestinian side.
While we all know the Western Wall will become – as well what it already is, spiritual heart of Israel – legally a most integral part of Israel in any conceivable future peace deal.
Trump’s desire for a peace deal, remarks about neutrality and his warmth and respect shown to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Jordan’s King Abdullah and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, and with the leaders of the Gulf States – even though we may disagree with him on US immigration policy related to his interpretation of fighting terrorism – have shown him to be in no way an Islamophobe to anyone who has eyes to see.
(And similarly when he struck at Syria – whether he was very right or very wrong to do so – because of his horror at the gassing of Muslim children.) And his obvious warmth toward Israel and its government leaders, and his personal reverence at the Western Wall, as well as the fact that he was the first president to travel through the Old City of Jerusalem, can all reassure Israel, beyond politics and policy, of his deepest spiritual and political regard for the Jewish state.
His long-standing desire for a peace deal, comments on his neutrality in the conflict and all of these further illustrations of that neutrality, the warmth and respect shown from the outset of his presidency to both Israeli and Palestinian and other Arab leaders – even though he is mistaken on US immigration policy – have always suggested it goes against all common sense to call Trump an “Islamophobe.”
One can be liberal and strongly disagree with Trump on most American domestic issues while not indiscriminately and reflexively dismissing and despising every single thing he says and does.
Like president Richard Nixon in China, perhaps Trump has found at least one venue where he could possibly earn a measure of respect.
As for Trump’s welcome reversals on some matters, just like Nixon’s on China, prime minister Ariel Sharon spoke the truth most memorably: “It looks different from here,” at the pinnacle of power, “than it does from there.”
The author is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School in world religions.