Professor Bibi and Developer Donald Discuss ME Peace

At Wednesday’s joint press conference, President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at once departed from standard procedure while also reverting to their comfortable roles: Bibi playing professor by lecturing about the Middle East and Trump, the real estate mogul, looking to sell and score the ‘ultimate deal.’

In a departure from established diplomatic procedure, Trump and Netanyahu held their press conference prior to meeting in the Oval Office. The purpose, as perceived by pundits, was to be able to deflect questions they didn’t want to address by simply stating ‘we haven’t discussed it yet.’

As for the actual press conference, Trump and Netanyahu did not use the excuse to deflect questions. Instead, by fully responding to reporters and engaging one another, Trump and Netanyahu appeared to veer off script at several key moments.

The most significant occurred when Netanyahu mentioned the idea of reaching a broader regional peace agreement with the Palestinians, one that involves neighboring Arab countries. The President seemed genuinely surprised that Netanyahu preempted him on that plan. “I didn’t know you were going to be mentioning that, but now that you did, I think it’s a terrific thing and I think we have some pretty good cooperation from people that in the past would never, ever have even thought about doing this,” Trump said while looking directly at the Israeli Prime Minister.  

Trump also perceived that Netanyahu wasn’t fully with him when he expressed his confidence in achieving a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians — a “bigger and better deal” in his words. “Let’s try it,” the Israeli leader responded. To which Trump asserted, “Doesn’t sound too optimistic, but he’s a good negotiator.”

“That’s the ‘art of the deal,’” Netanyahu quipped referencing the title of Trump’s 1987 book.  

While Netanyahu mostly read from written notes placed on the lectern ahead of time by Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, playing the role of the lecturer on Middle East peace, Trump spoke freely, sometimes contradicting comments he has made in the past, notably when he turned to Netanyahu and said, “I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit. We’ll work something out. But I would like to see a deal be made.”

The Israeli Prime Minister again surprised Trump, those in the room and many in the Jewish community watching from home, when he went out of his way to respond to a question posed earlier to Trump. The President was asked by an Israeli journalist about incidents of anti-Semitism across the United States and his reaction to those who believe his administration is playing with xenophobic and racist tones. Far from addressing the question directly, Trump chose to discuss the electoral college and the divided country before noting that he plans “to bring lots of love.” Trump pointed to his Jewish relatives as ‘evidence’ he will not tolerate anti-Semitism. “As far as people — Jewish people — so many friends, a daughter who happens to be here right now, a son-in-law, and three beautiful grandchildren,” Trump said.

That’s when Netanyahu stepped in to defend Trump against any charges of anti-Semitism. “I’ve known the President and I’ve known his family and his team for a long time, and there is no greater supporter of the Jewish people and the Jewish state than President Donald Trump,” Netanyahu declared. “I think we should put that to rest.

Trump was moved by the surprising gesture. “Very nice. I appreciate that very much,” Trump told Netanyahu before leaving the stage.

Some Jewish Americans leaders were not impressed with Netanyahu providing cover for Trump’s controversial behavior towards issues like anti-Semitism. “I wish Bibi wouldn’t have gone where he went,” Abe Foxman, former National Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), told Jewish Insider. “If the President wasn’t willing to stand up to say he will fight anti-Semitism, I thought that was an unnecessary move.”

Towards the end of the press conference, Netanyahu again shifted from script to heap praise on Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and special advisor on foreign policy issues. “Can I reveal, Jared, how long we’ve known you?” Netanyahu asked Kushner, who was seated in front row, referring to a recent NYTimes article about Kushner’s decades-long relationship with the Israeli leader. “Well, he was never small. He was always big. He was always tall.”

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