Bibi Changes the News Narrative, Perhaps Intentionally
President Trump came to Israel with an ambitious task: relaunch the peace process and get the Israelis and Palestinians to agree to certain guidelines that would help the two sides work towards a successful outcome.
But just a few hours into the trip, the news narrative shifted. A story that has caused headaches for the Trump administration in recent weeks was brought to life during the President’s first overseas trip. Perhaps uncoincidentally, this shift of attention away from the White House’s push for a renewed peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians could have been just what Netanyahu was hoping for.
As Trump and Netanyahu wrapped up their opening statements ahead of a bilateral meeting at the King David Hotel, Bloomberg’s Margaret Talev called out a question to the two leaders asking if there was concern about the Israeli intelligence that Trump shared with the Russians in the Oval Office. Trump appeared to ignore the question and starting walking away but Netanyahu decided to answer it. “The intelligence cooperation is terrific,” he said.
At that point, Trump appeared anxious to respond and engage the cameras. “Just so you understand, I never mentioned the word or the name Israel,” Trump insisted. “Never mentioned during that conversation. They’re all saying I did, so you have another story wrong. Never mentioned the word Israel.”
Within minutes, Twitter and Cable News immediately picked up on the brief off-script moment. “His comment now brings back a story that had died down, as he protests a specific he wasn’t accused of,” Maggie Haberman, a New York Times reporter, tweeted. “Trump denies saying “Israel” during Russia meeting, doesn’t deny sharing intelligence,” the chyron on MSNBC read, playing the remarks over and over.
Earlier Monday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters that the U.S. would issue no apology over Trump’s disclosure of highly classified Israeli intelligence regarding ISIS to Russia. “I don’t know that there’s anything to apologize for,” Tillerson told reporters on Air Force One en route to Tel Aviv. “To the extent the Israelis have any questions, or clarification, I’m sure we’re happy to provide that.”
In public statements during the trip, Trump reiterated his hope of brokering peace in the Middle East, emphasizing the unique opportunity that could lead to new relations between Israel and Arab states in the region.