What to Expect from Trump’s Israel Visit

Photo credit: Avi Ohayon (GPO)

Photo credit: Avi Ohayon (GPO)


WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump will be departing on Friday for his first foreign trip overseas with stops in Saudi Arabia, the Vatican, Israel and the West Bank. Daniel Kurtzer, former US Ambassador to Israel and Egypt, told Jewish Insider, “What Trump is trying to do is contrast his close closeness to Israel with that of Obama. Obama didn’t go for the first four years and Trump is going in the first four months.”

The visit to Israel is part of a long term US strategic investment towards the process, noted Michael Koplow, policy director of the Israel Policy Forum. “Someone in the White House has learned the lesson from the last administration where it was clearly a mistake not to go to Israel early on. (They) realize that if you are going to get the Israelis to make concessions, it’s probably a good idea to actually go to Israel and show the Israelis some love.”

The White House’s showering of love towards Israel is concerning many in Jerusalem, explains Daniel Shapiro, former US Ambassador to Israel from 2011-2017. “When it comes to President Trump’s Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative, both sides are nervous about what this trip, and events beyond it, could produce. Trump is unpredictable, and his team is inexperienced in Middle East negotiations,” he told Jewish Insider.

While Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas may be uncomfortable abiding by Washington’s demands to cut stipends to terrorists’ families, he still likely appreciates the renewed attention. Abbas is “primarily looking at the revival of interest in the Palestinian issue and his own role as chairman of the PLO as an unexpected political bananza. What he is going to try and do is try to get maximal advantage particularly in terms of his own domestic political credibility,” explained Hussein Ibish, senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. “As long as the Palestinian issue has been resuscitated — almost brought back from the dead really by Trump —  and he’s standing next to Trump whether in the White House or Ramallah, and there is serious prospects for some benefits on-the-ground, his position which was otherwise very shaky politically becomes really unassailable.”

With Trump’s unpredictable nature and the threats of a Twitter war launched against Jerusalem and Ramallah, Kurtzner emphasized the willingness of both sides to please Trump. “They (Netanyahu and Abbas) are going to try and put on the best face they can: neither one wants the responsibility of failure to be on their doorstep,” he stated. At the same time, Shapiro emphasized the deep underlying challenges preventing any genuine breakthrough between the parties. “Neither Netanyahu or Abbas have any trust in the other, and both face severe domestic political constraints and gaps in their respective positions on the core issues,” he noted.  “So whether they agree to start talks under Trump’s sponsorship, or simply stall for time, they are very likely to fall back into deeply ingrained habits of preparing not for success, but for winning the blame game when failure comes.  That may be the biggest challenge facing Trump’s initiative.”

Yet, for all of the focus on how the trip will impact Israelis and Palestinians on-the-ground, Koplow suggests that the visit may have an additional purpose. “Going abroad and having a high-profile trip where you are seated by leaders in Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Vatican it looks good and certainly won’t escape anyone’s notice that it’s coming at a time when things at home are getting dicey and this won’t be the first President to go abroad and try to use good headlines and nice photos from overseas to push away some trouble he is having at home,” he said.


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