Interview with Ilan Goldenberg on Trump, Peace Process

Photo by Center for a New American Security

Photo by Center for a New American Security


Ilan Goldenberg, a former State Department official under John Kerry and a Middle East expert at the Center for a New American Security, shared his thoughts about Trump’s trip and push for peace in a phone interview yesterday.

“The first thing is, he just needs to avoid stepping in any stage management problems,” Goldenberg explained the complexity of Trump first visit to the Jewish State. “I’m worried about that. Whether it’s going to the Western wall and messing around that… I just think you need to get that stuff right. And it’s delicate, difficult and hard to do as the President, especially when you’ve never done it. I think everybody is very needy and particular, and the media has no interest in how this goes off in anything other than a complete success. I’m sure the intelligence thing will come up behind closed doors and that will be a very sore spot. I’m sure there’s a lot of Israeli security officials who are furious. And it’s going to hurt intelligence sharing and cause apprehension. And then, are you gonna actually be able to begin any real progress?”

Goldenberg on why Trump is investing so much time on peace process: “I think there are a few things that appeal to him about the issue. The first is, even though this  Israeli-Palestinian issue is not what it used to be in terms of the importance of national interest, it’s still the international diplomatic holy grail. It’s still the peace deal that every leader wants to bring home. It still gets disproportionate amounts of coverage in the press. And so, somebody like Trump is probably attracted to the idea of being that guy, especially since he sees himself as the deal-maker. I also think it has to do with the fact that his whole career has been in real estate business in New York. There’s a large Jewish community that works in business in New York. So I feel like this is probably also a foreign policy issue that he’s been a lot more exposed to than others and therefore something that resonates more with him. And you can see by the company he seeks whether it’s Ron Lauder or [Sheldon] Adelson or whoever he’s talking to, this is part of his world and this issue comes up a lot in that world.”

Goldenberg responds to Mort Klein calling his former colleague Kris Bauman ‘pro-Hamas’: “First of all, Kris is a military professional. Ninety percent of people who work in any president’s National Security Council are career officials. Their job is to present the options themselves, and then it’s up to the political appointees and the people at the very top to really make the decisions about where the policy goes. Our whole report was about how to keep the West Bank from becoming Gaza. It seems hard to me to characterize somebody as “pro-Hamas” – it’s just ludicrous. There’s also a lot of former security officials and current who agreed with the work we did, and then there’s others who debated it, and there were some differences. But this notion that he is this far-outside-the-mainstream official is just silly. I think that his views, and everything I’ve ever seen, reflect what is the real debate inside of Israel and what is the real debate inside the United States.”

“I think it’s easier to make a scapegoat out of a civil servant or a career military official, who can’t stand up for themselves and fight back because they’re not going to speak in public, then it is to go after the President of the United States. But the President made the decision to not move the Embassy. The President, during the campaign, talked about making peace between Israelis and Palestinians. He even talked about a balanced approach. He was all over the place on this issue. It’s been clear since he came into office that he personally is interested in pursuing this. I think that, for whatever reason or another, it’s not about who advises him. He actually wants to do this. Because, I gotta tell you, national security officials and advisors, and if you were just looking at all the standard crowd who would be advising a President, what they would say to a sitting president right now — what hey would say to Trump is, ‘Don’t do anything big. Why are you wasting your time on this issue? It’s not going anywhere.’ The fact that it’s become such a high priority issue is coming from him, not from anybody else.”


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