Run, Bibi, run

Trump’s warm and friendly campaign slogans have dropped out of sight.

PM Netanyahu and President Trump (photo credit: AVI OHAYON - GPO)
PM Netanyahu and President Trump
(photo credit: AVI OHAYON - GPO)
The atmosphere in Israel is starting to warm up in preparation for US President Donald Trump’s visit next week.
Every event that takes place, and every word Trump will utter, can easily be blown out of proportion and reach mythical dimensions. Nonetheless, for those who will try to downplay the importance of this visit, saying that it would just be another visit by a US president, I say the following: Trump is not just another US president, but a president hungry for results and eager to succeed in reaching a settlement.
Donald Trump’s first trip visit to Israel as a sitting president will be a very important one. Anyone who has been observing the developments of the new American administration knows that it’s been like riding a roller coaster, careening around sharp corners and adapting to changes every moment. Trump’s first 100 days have turned the unexpected into the expected.
Every day around noon Israel time (which is early morning in Washington) Trump sends out some of his daily tweets.
At first it was amusing that the president was having a hard time breaking this habit.
Now it seems that Twitter has become his favorite mode of communication and the main source of information on US policy.
Some of the president’s actions, both in the legislative sphere (restricting the entry of Muslims, or health reform) and in the personal sphere (the firing of national security adviser Michael Flynn and FBI director James Comey) prove that the most stable aspect of Trump’s administration is its instability. This might change over time, or it could just be that this is merely Trump’s personal style.
We must not forget, however, that this very style and approach are what led him to win the US presidency, a race in which he overtook a long list of veteran Republican politicians, plus a Democratic candidate with tremendous prestige, experience and status. And he accomplished this pretty much all by himself.
Consequently, here in Israel and the rest of the Middle East, we are grappling to decipher the unknown. Trump’s warm and friendly campaign slogans have dropped out of sight. The meeting he held with Netanyahu showed us that Trump is already thinking along different lines. Now, instead of saying things like, “Do whatever you want, so long as you are in agreement about it,” Trump is taking the familiar route of his predecessors and considering accepting the two states for two peoples solution.
In the case of Syria, the US cruise missile strike following Assad’s chemical attack on civilians was the correct form of action to take, and yet it was detached from any long-term military or political strategy.
Trump’s greatest advantage is also his main weakness. When he sets his mind on something, he strives to reach his goal and ignores all the surrounding difficulties and small details. Some people believe that God is in the details. Well, Trump’s God isn’t.
He surrounds himself with assistants and advisers whom he instructs how to close the next “big deal.”
He makes the decisions and they carry out his will. This is how he’s always done business until now. It’s utterly unclear whether this style is appropriate for politics, but in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I actually believe that it just might be the most fitting format, and perhaps even be a turning point.
Trump’s predecessors and their Middle East emissaries began at the same starting point, but quickly sank into the political quagmire. As a rule of thumb, the more they knew, the less successful they were.
John Kerry, for example, made 25 visits to Israel. I’ll never forget how his cavalcade of black cars crossed Jerusalem on its way to Ramallah in one of the worst snowstorms we’ve ever experienced. That was the story in a nutshell: Kerry was busily going back and forth, but nobody paid him any attention.
The components of the arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians are well known and clear cut. They were established in the Oslo Accords, and have undergone a series of amendments over the years under the leadership of Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert, and Tzipi Livni. Although such an agreement has not yet been sealed, some of its foundations have been solidified and are already facts on the ground.
Trump should adopt a military-style arrangement in which he begins with the existing understandings and pursues his goal: reaching an agreement. He must first bypass the pockets of resistance and only then should he loosen the reins. If he gets stuck in any of the potholes he encounters along the road, he’ll never reach the finish line.
Israel has a great amount of interest in the success of Trump’s Middle East peace initiative. As of today, we have no alternative backer in the US. Netanyahu burned his bridges with the Democratic Party, which in any case looks pretty bruised and might take some time to recover. It’s possible that it will improve by the upcoming US midterm elections at the end of 2018, but there is still a long way to go. Despite a sympathetic Congress, I am convinced that AIPAC is advising Netanyahu not to push his luck too much with the Republicans, since they also want to be reelected and need a successful president to do so.
It is in Israel’s absolute best interest to reach an immediate agreement with Abbas. No one knows who will replace him and when this might occur. I am certain that Netanyahu does not want one state for two peoples. How do I know this? Because he himself has said so many times. But the pressure he faces from extremist members of his coalition, namely Education Minister Naftali Bennett, has forced him to carry out unprecedented actions, such as leaking parts of protocols from closed meetings.
Netanyahu has gotten carried away.
This is Netanyahu’s chance to engage in a diplomatic move that would strengthen Israel. Granted, such a move could come at a high price with respect to the coalition, but on the other hand a plan that is put forward by Israel would raise Israel’s standing in Trump’s eyes and also strengthen Israel’s international standing. I am convinced that Foreign Minister Netanyahu would be proud of this.
In recent years, Israel has acquired a reputation as being intransigent – and rightly so. Israel now has an opportunity to break the deadlock. Trump’s visit is a great occasion, one that may not present itself again in the future, to start a new chapter in our relationship with the Palestinians, with the support and assistance of the world’s most powerful man.
Run, Bibi, run.
The author is a Zionist Union MK and chairman of the Knesset Caucus for Strengthening the Jewish World.