It was reported in the Israeli press that the popularity of President Trump among the Israeli public is plummeting. Obviously the honeymoon of Israel with the American president is over and we are left to hope it will not end in an ugly divorce.
At least the Israeli public and their government are sharing the same sentiments in this case. Even if public expressions of disappointment from Israeli officials are still very limited and muted in tone, it is clear that President Trump is not living up to the expectations of the powers that be in Israel either.
Only 4-5 months ago, we saw a new era dawning. The U.S. embassy would be moved to Jerusalem; settlements would be expanded; annexation of large areas in the West Bank was considered; “the Two State Solution is dead”; in short the dream of a Greater Israel was finally coming true, and with the blessing of the new president, no doubt.
Since then, Trump has asked for restraint in settlement building; has stated that one state, two states, whatever, is fine with him as long as it is fine with us. And US meaning us and the Palestinians; the U.S. Embassy is not going anywhere, not now and not in the near future.
And lately, the Western Wall was declared part of the occupied West Bank by U.S. diplomats, the “Green Line” was obliterated from the map showing Trump’s itinerary; Trump is leaking secrets provided to him by Israel to the Russians; and on top of all that, some remarks made by White House staffers were interpreted by ever watchful Holocaust protectors as “problematic” and Trump will spend only 15 minutes at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem.
The dreams have turned into nightmares and it probably will not be long before Trump is made just as black by Israeli loudmouth politicians, as his predecessor was (pun intended).
Analyses of what did happen and what will happen are endless in Israeli newspapers but in fact it is very simple.
Donald Trump, a successful businessman, but not exactly a politician, nor an expert in foreign policy, including Middle East policy, is running for president. His advisers, be they right or be they wrong, tell him that the Middle East is an important area and that the U.S. has a big ally there called Israel to whom the U.S. gives billions of dollars a year in Defense aid. They tell him, it is important for the campaign to show support for Israel. So Trump pulls out an atlas, looks up where Israel is and asks surprised: so small a country, so few people? Are they really that important? And so his advisers tell him about the holocaust, about Netanyahu, about Netanyahu’s influence in Congress, about the “strong, stronger, strongest” policy that Israel has maintained for years, and Trump likes it. So he makes statements. And so he makes promises. And, lo and behold, he gets elected.
And then real life kicks in. Now his advisers start to tell him about what Israel is actually doing. About the 50 year occupation; about the oppression of Palestinians; about the obnoxious Israeli politicians; about the stubborn refusal by Israel to negotiate based on a return of stolen lands; about the cynical use made by Israel of the Holocaust and antisemitism; about everything he should have been told long before he became president.
And, believe it or not, Trump starts to think. Is the Israeli occupation of the West Bank really already 50 years? Are they all this time trying to create facts on the ground to prevent a removal of land thieves? Are they refusing to negotiate only to try and gain time? Are they lying through their teeth all the time, including to me? This is not the way to make a deal!
And so, the businessman Trump takes control. We are going to have a deal here, whether they (both Palestinians and Israelis) like it or not. We will force it down their throats if need be but we are going to get this deal! (Of course nobody in the Administration said this in public, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the kind of language that was used in private discussions).
In Jerusalem, nobody is being fooled (anymore). They know what is coming. So panic sets in. “We are open to everything but Israel will not be told what to do”; “the leak of the intelligence information to the Russians will do very serious damage”; 15 minutes at Yad Vashem is an insult to the memory of the Holocaust”, “The move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem will correct a decades old injustice”.
Of course these “statements” are not made by first tier politicians and certainly not by Netanyahu (Except for the U.S. Embassy move, which through its symbolism apparently is crucial to our prime minister), but there are sufficient minions around to do this dirty work, trying to set the focus on the side issues, in the hope to be able to avoid the real ones.
We will see this week how Trump will take on the Middle East, and what his deal will hold in store for Israel. One thing is clear already: Trump’s unpredictability may work in his and our favor. Forty years ago, when the Likud came to power with Menachem Begin at the helm, nobody could have predicted that Begin, out of all people, within a couple of years would do what Israeli leaders in thirty years did not succeed to do, and he made peace with Egypt, our biggest enemy. And he did this by returning to Egypt what belongs to them and was not ours to take.
But maybe Trump is not so unpredictable after all. Fifty years of occupation and oppression really is an injustice that needs to be set right. Stealing another people’s land, calling it your own, and flooding it with your emissaries really does evoke some revulsion and maybe not only at anti-Semitic world organizations but also at businessmen wanting to close a deal. And Trump is a businessman, not a politician.
The Israeli leaders made the mistake of rooky card players and they mistook their Trump Card for a Joker. And they played it too early in the game and pushed to gain more than a simple trump card can do. And is the joke(r) on us now?