ANALYSIS: Trump’s Trip to Israel; in One Word “Excellent”

Trump, Israel, Netanyahu
Air Force One on the tarmac of Ben Gurion Airport. (Shlomi Cohen/Flash90)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was asked to summarize President Trump’s trip to Israel and the Middle East in one word, and he said: “Excellent.” That is the feeling in Israel after the departure of the American president. He did the unbelievable. Just a few days ago, there was a lot of anxiety about what he would say, and the direction in which he would pull. But the president turned out to be a genuine supporter of Israel, who is concerned about the welfare and security of the Jewish state.

The sigh of relief emitted in Israel this afternoon, when the wheels of Air Force One lifted off the runaway at Ben Gurion Airport, could be heard miles away. It was a sigh of relief by security personnel because the visit had passed with no incidents. And a sigh of relief by politicians because the president did not complicate things for Israel — in contrast to all that they had feared ahead of time. Yes, the visit left Israel with a deep sense of relief.

It is primarily what the American president did not say, more than what he did say, that was also nice and heartwarming.

He did not mention “two states for two peoples.” He didn’t even make a reference to the settlements. He didn’t speak about withdrawals or the concept “1967 borders.” He also didn’t speak about the rights of Palestinians in Yerushalayim and other places, as previous presidents and cabinet secretaries did on their trips to Israel.

The 28-hour visit concluded with warm speeches and statements to the Israeli people and its land. The president didn’t surprise anyone or make anyone ask, “Why did he come?” Yes, he spoke about his commitment to attaining peace, without mentioning the conditions on either side. He expressed his confidence that during his term, it will be possible to achieve peace, and perhaps even a broader peace than just with the Palestinians. He promised firmly that during his presidency, Iran would not attain a nuclear bomb. He did not present any diplomatic frameworks; he didn’t open maps or show any timetables.

The “frightening” expression of “two states for two peoples” was not uttered by the president in any of his six speeches or interviews during the visit. He also didn’t mention it when he visited Saudi Arabia or the Palestinian Authority. Listening to his words closely, we learned that we are going back to the old messages, such as negotiations only taking place with no preconditions.

The optimism of most of the ministers and coalition members in Netanyahu’s government was that the negotiations being discussed will not ripen into anything serious. If they do, some of the ministers and the coalition party partners will need to leave and launch a campaign against the prime minister and those who remain within the coalition. But there is also no small number of senior Israeli politicians, primarily from outside the coalition, who are following the developments and saying that there is a historic process unfolding here that may definitely lead to an agreement. If any partners leave the coalition, there will be those who will take their places at the cabinet table.

In his final speech, President Trump spoke a lot about Yerushalayim. He said that it needs to serve as an inspiration for coexistence. He did not mention the disputes over Yerushalayim between Jews and Muslims, between Israelis and Arabs.

He suggested creating an international coalition against international extremism. That was perhaps an inference to his desire to create a joint conference of all the leaders and countries in the region that want to coordinate one policy against the terror threat.

Upon his departure, President Trump delivered a very warm speech towards Israel, with special emphasis on Yerushalayim, which he mentioned over and over.

The president spoke about the partnership that can be built between the moderate Arab nations and Israel. He did not specify if this is a personal wish or if he has already begun to do something toward that end, and we will hear the practical details at some point in the future. The message that emerged from the speeches and the visit was that he wants to build trust among the Israeli public arena. He made a commitment that his government would always support Israel as a broad regional process begins to evolve, which he did not detail. He also did not present his framework that may have begun to form behind the scenes, and for which Israel will have to pay some price. Mr. Trump hinted that if Israel would have to pay a price, it would be under the American defense umbrella, on whose account he already made his first pledge, which was almost an oath: As long as he is president of the United States, Iran will not become nuclear capable.

Mr. Trump really and truly was moved by his visit here, and expressed his hope that the day will come that all Israeli children and children of the region will be able to walk in peace and tranquility together. But in the meantime, he diverted the emphasis from the Palestinian issue, to the overall threat coming from the Persian Gulf, even at the expense of going with the Palestinians.

To the Palestinians, President Trump said that they can build themselves towards an entity of their own, but it is not yet a state. Perhaps in the future. Meanwhile, they have to prove that they are capable of running a state and weaning it off terror.

The second and final day of the president’s visit began with a short visit to Beit Lechem, as a guest of the Palestinian Authority.

At the entrance to the Mukata, where PA Chairman Abu Mazen is based, the president was welcomed by an honor guard of 20 people. He listened as two anthems played and reviewed the guard before entering an hour-long private conversation with Abu Mazen. The latter told the American president that “we are demanding freedom and independence for our nation. I am committed to the peace process and am ready for it. The problem is not with our relations to the Jews but with the State of Israel, which captured our land and established settlements on it.”

The president replied, “I’m happy to hear that you want peace. Peace also requires war against terrorists, preventing payments for families of murderers and stopping offensive publications.”

At the end of the meeting, the president also visited a large local church, and then returned to Yerushalayim, passing by Kever Rachel.

The visiting president had a very moving visit to Yad Vashem. It lasted far longer than the originally planned 15 minutes; he was there for over an hour. It was apparent on his face and the faces of his escorts what this place means and its significance to each and every Jew. He was very moved. We could see it clearly in his reactions. In his breathing. In the way he walked. In the way he listened to every word spoken by Chairman of Yad Vashem, Israel’s former chief Rabbi Harav Yisrael Meir Lau. He was moved by the chief military chazzan who sang the tefillah of Kel Malei Rachamim, which brought many of those present to tears.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu escorted President Trump and his family during the Yad Vashem visit.

Netanyahu said said that Trump’s visit to Yad Vashem “adds to a historic visit.”

“This adds to a historic visit. You are the first American president who chose to include Israel on his first foreign trip. You’re the first president in office to visit the Western Wall. We were so deeply moved to see that picture of you touching the stones of the wall. And may I say, we were deeply moved to see First Lady Melania Trump touching the stones of that wall. And equally moved when we saw your daughter, Ivanka, and your son-in-law Jared do the same. Now you touch other stones.

“You honor today the memory of six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust. A few weeks ago, you gave a powerful speech in the Holocaust Memorial Day in Washington, DC, and today in this solemn place, in Yad Vashem, our great monument of remembrance, we remember the Holocaust. We remember the hatred towards Jews that consumed a defenseless people. We pledge never to be defenseless against that hatred again. And to fulfill that pledge, Israel must always be able to defend itself … against any threat.

“I appreciate America’s longstanding commitment to that principle, and Mr. President, I appreciate your commitment to that principle, your commitment to the security of the one and only Jewish state, which is entrusted with securing the Jewish future. You said, Mr. President, just now, that we must confront evil in the world, we must confront the barbarians. They are sadly still with us.

“I want to say something about the bloody horror in Manchester last night. The slaughter of innocents must be unconditionally condemned and unflinchingly confronted no matter where it occurs – in Manchester, San Bernardino or Jerusalem: Terror is terror is terror. We must all unite to defeat it.

“Mr. President, today you called the terrorists losers. I know you agree with me that it’s our job to make sure that they continue to lose. We will defeat them.

“Thank you. Thank you to First Lady Melania Trump. Thank you for taking such a strong stand for Israel and the Jewish people. It comes from the heart of all of us. Thank you, Mr. President.”

From Yad Vashem, a very long convoy that closed many streets of Yerushalayim traveled to the Israel Museum in Givat Ram. This was the final stop before departure. This was the speech that the Israelis most feared that President Trump would use to say some unpleasant things. But in due time, the all clear siren was sounded. It was a speech that certainly could have won the American president the title of “honorary Likud member.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu welcomed his guest at the museum and said: “This museum tells the story of Israel. Mr. President, you’ve just gone through a fast-paced visit through our past, our present and we work together to fashion the future. Here you can see Hebrew texts of the Bible that are 2,000 years old. You can see the seals and coins that bear witness to nearly 4,000 years of our presence in this land. You can see the menorahs we lit, the synagogues we prayed in during our long exile.

“But the story of Israel is not simply the story of the past. It’s the story of a nation reborn, of a barren land brought back to life, of an ancient language revived, of an exiled people who returned, of Jewish sovereignty restored. We have a saying, Mr. President, “The Jewish people lives.” The State of Israel lives on, alive as ever: a thriving democracy; a powerful army; an innovative, free economy; and a proud, resilient people.

“Mr. President, over the years Israel has had many friends, but Israel has never had and will never have a better friend than the United States of America. That friendship is reflected in the overwhelming support of the American people, strong bipartisan support of the American Congress and the support of American presidents from Harry Truman to Donald Trump. Thank you, President Trump, for your steadfast friendship to the Jewish people and the Jewish state. It is deeply, deeply appreciated.

“Mr. President, I believe that the alliance between America and Israel is more important than ever. Together we must defeat those who glorify death and protect those who celebrate life. Together we can defeat the forces of militant Islam who seek to destroy the civilized world. And together we can and we must defeat the forces of terror. Terrorism, the deliberate slaughter of innocents, must be equally condemned and equally fought, whether it strikes in Europe, in American or in Israel – or for that matter, anywhere else. And as you said this morning, Mr. President, funding and rewarding terrorism must end.

“Standing next to you, President Abbas condemned the horrific attack in Manchester. Well, I hope this heralds a real change, because if the attacker had been Palestinian and the victims had been Israeli children, the suicide bomber’s family would have received a stipend from the Palestinian Authority. That’s Palestinian law. That law must be changed.

“I hope that President Abbas heeds the principles, the clear, strong, moral and practical principles that you enunciated today, President Trump: Stop rewarding terrorists, stop glorifying murderers.

“I believe that this is the first and the crucial step towards the road towards a genuine peace that Israel seeks and that I believe that – together with you – we can achieve. President Trump, working with you, I believe we can advance a durable peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, as well as the Palestinians, because of the common danger that the Arab world and Israel face from Iran, and because of the leadership that you bring to this process.

“Ultimately, around the world, I have no doubt that freedom will defeat fear, that light will vanquish darkness, because that is the story of America, a nation that has defeated the forces of tyranny, that is the beacon and hope of all humanity. And that is the story of Israel, a nation that has overcome unimaginable horrors and impossible odds, and is the hope of the Jewish people.

“Mr. President, thank you for your historic visit, for your unbelievably moving gestures in a concentrated 36 hour period in Israel. You’ve touched the core and the stones of our being: in the Kotel, the Western Wall, yesterday, now in Yad Vashem and now in our wonderful museum. You, First Wife, First Family, First Lady Melania Trump, your family and your delegation, you’ve shown a great commitment to Israel’s future and to its security. I want to thank you, Mr. President, for standing up for Israel at the United Nations and everywhere else, and I thank you for your unrelenting support and a friendship that comes from the heart to the Jewish people and the Jewish state. Thank you, President Trump.

“G-d bless you, G-d bless Israel and G-d bless the United States of America.”

At this point, the president rose to make the planned great conclusion of his visit. The speech so many had been waiting for. What exactly does he intend to say? was the question of questions before he began, and I won’t deny that there was some fear in our hearts. Did he save all the attacks, demands and criticism for the last moment before he boards the plane?

And then came the big surprise, when he said:

“It is a privilege to stand here in this national museum, in the ancient city of Jerusalem, to address the Israeli people and all people in the Middle East who yearn for security, prosperity and peace.

“Jerusalem is a sacred city. Its beauty, splendor, and heritage are like no other place on Earth. What a heritage. What a heritage. The ties of the Jewish people to this Holy Land are ancient and eternal. They date back thousands of years, including the reign of King David whose star now flies proudly on Israel’s white and blue flag.”

The president continued: “Israel is a testament to the unbreakable spirit of the Jewish people. From all parts of this great country, one message resounds, and that is the message of hope. Down through the ages, the Jewish people have suffered persecution, oppression, and even those who have sought their destruction. But, through it all, they have endured and, in fact, they have thrived. I stand in awe of the accomplishments of the Jewish people, and I make this promise to you: My administration will always stand with Israel.”

“Today, gathered with friends, I call upon all people — Jews, Christians, Muslims, and every faith, every tribe, every creed — to draw inspiration from this ancient city, to set aside our sectarian differences, to overcome oppression and hatred, and to give all children the freedom and hope and dignity written into our souls.”

“Both Israelis and Palestinians seek lives of hope for their children. And we know that peace is possible if we put aside the pain and disagreements of the past and commit together to finally resolving this crisis, which has dragged on for nearly half a century or more.

“As I have repeatedly said, I am personally committed to helping Israelis and Palestinians achieve a peace agreement, and I had a meeting this morning with President Abbas and can tell you that the Palestinians are ready to reach for peace. I know you’ve heard it before. I am telling you — that’s what I do. They are ready to reach for peace.

“In my meeting with my very good friend, Benjamin, I can tell you also that he is reaching for peace. He wants peace. He loves people. He especially loves the Israeli people. Benjamin Netanyahu wants peace.

“Making peace, however, will not be easy. We all know that. Both sides will face tough decisions. But with determination, compromise, and the belief that peace is possible, Israelis and Palestinians can make a deal.”

The visiting president began his remarks by “sending the thoughts and prayers of the entire American people to the victims of the terrorist attack in Manchester.

“You know – you’ve all been watching,” said the president. “You’ve seen just a horrible thing going on. I want to send our condolences to the many families who lost their loved ones. Horrific, horrific injuries. Terrible. Dozens of innocent people, beautiful young children savagely murdered in this heinous attack upon humanity. I repeat again that we must drive out the terrorists and the extremists from our midst, obliterate this evil ideology, and protect and defend our citizens and people of the world.

Trump said that on his trip to Saudi Arabia, “I was hosted by King Salman – a very wise man. There, I urged our friends in the Muslim world to join us in creating stability, safety and security. And I was deeply encouraged by the desire of many leaders to join us in cooperation toward these shared and vital goals.

“Conflict cannot continue forever. The only question is when nations will decide that they have had enough — enough bloodshed, enough killing. That historic summit represents a new opportunity for people throughout the Middle East to overcome sectarian and religious divisions, to extinguish the fires of extremism, and to find common ground and shared responsibility in making the future of this region so much better than it is right now.

“Change must come from within. It can only come from within. No mother or father wants their children to grow up in a world where terrorists roam free, schoolchildren are murdered, and their loved ones are taken. No child is born with prejudice in their heart. No one should teach young boys and girls to hate and to kill. No civilized nation can tolerate the massacre of innocents with chemical weapons.

“My message to that summit was the same message I have for you: We must build a coalition of partners who share the aim of stamping out extremists and violence, and providing our children a peaceful and hopeful future.

“But a hopeful future for children in the Middle East requires the world to fully recognize the vital role of the State of Israel.

At this point, he addressed other threats that exist in the Middle East:

Israelis have experienced firsthand the hatred and terror of radical violence. Israelis are murdered by terrorists wielding knives and bombs. Hamas and Hezbollah launch rockets into Israeli communities where schoolchildren have to be trained to hear the sirens and run to the bomb shelters – with fear, but with speed. ISIS targets Jewish neighborhoods, synagogues, and storefronts. And Iran’s leaders routinely call for Israel’s destruction.

“Not with Donald J. Trump, believe me.”

On hearing those words, all in the auditorium stood for long minutes in applause.

He continued: “The United States is firmly committed to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and halting their support of terrorists and militias. So we are telling you right now that Iran will not have nuclear weapons.

“America’s security partnership with Israel is stronger than ever. Under my administration, you see the difference — big, big beautiful difference.”

Again there was a sustained, enthusiastic ovation.

To conclude this impressive visit, it is possible to summarize these two days and the new situation in the relationship between Israel and the U.S.

The president’s visit was distinguished from that of his predecessors by a clear, sharp statement that it is not the identity of Arabs and ideologies that today tie Washington to the capitals of the Middle East, but the interests of the American people. And whoever contributes to this will be able join in a circle of friends, and all the rest will be brushed aside.

From the moment that President Trump signed an arms deal in Saudi Arabia for half a trillion dollars, he essentially set for himself and all other players in the region a bar that will be hard to pass over. From that moment, the order of priorities of the White House in the region changed.

The president, when he was running his campaign for office, promised that he would put America first. That their economic and security needs come before anyone else’s. And he is doing that. The agreement he signed in Riyadh demonstrates this. Everyone knows that a deal on this scale does not come about overnight. Former President Barack Obama was also involved in reaching this agreement. To a large degree, Mr. Trump found it ready to go. But the one who signs on the dotted line takes the credit, and that’s what happened here.

The agreement will give the Americans the capacity to expand the workplace in the U.S.; tens of thousands of people currently unemployed will have work and better wages. This is an agreement over a number of years, and it is consistent with the goal that President Trump has set for himself, to advance the interests of America.

From here on, it is clear that everything will revolve around this deal. Saudi Arabia has returned to being a central ally of the U.S. in this part of the world, and the Americans are allies of the Saudis. The disconnection that took place during Obama’s tenure has been erased in one go.

The main speech of President Trump in Saudi Arabia focused on the need to increase the struggle against extremist terror. Our struggle, he said, is not of religions or civilizations; rather, it is between “barbarous criminals,” who are terrorists, and “normal people.” Between good and evil. Perhaps here he alluded to Saudi Arabia, where in their own country Islamic extremism began to flourish.

Before the president took off from Riyadh to Israel, the message was already on the table of the Israeli government: They understood the policy created by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in forging connections with the Arab states who need Israel, and the Saudis among them is not only is good and appropriate, but imperative. The strengthening of the connection cannot be made without Israel contributing something public of its own to the project.

King Salman and his advisors read the map well. They understood the great peril from Iran. And that only America could stop Iran. The initial supposition that the Russians might be able to do it was quickly disposed of. Once the Saudis realized this, they turned to the Americans; and the result was this week’s summit in Riyadh.

The U.S. will have to pay the Saudis with more than words, but also deeds. Rhetoric about the Iranian menace will not suffice. America will have to think about how it can actively stop the Iranians from spreading its Sunni Islam and cutting off Tehran’s proxies.

All of this is good for Israel, which knows it is not the threat from the direction of the Palestinians or Hamas that is greatest, but the Iranian, delivered through Hezbollah — entirely a proxy of Iran. Accordingly, one can understand why President Trump repeated over and over that we have to fight terrorism, and emphasized that Tehran is the source of armed terrorism in the world.

The Saudis received President Trump with great warmth and emotion, in the knowledge that the American president was in need of it. They added to the enthusiastic welcome a carpet of “green,” in both senses of the word. Lots of green cash. As if to say, “We’ll dance around you with swords and write fat checks, and you in return will build for us an anti-Irani, anti-terror and anti-Shi’ite fortress.”

The deal was worth about $460 billion, chiefly between the Saudi defense establishment and the U.S. defense industry. But also in the package is 30 billion for procurement of American civilian goods. The Saudis will buy $110 billion worth of products in the coming year, and the remaining 350 billion over the next 10 years.

The Saudis are seeking to boost their military capability, sending a clear message to Iran that they will now face a “mini-power” that can deter any aggression.

And we nearly failed to notice. Mr. Trump brought with him to Saudi Arabia a huge delegation of industrial leaders from the U.S. Boeing, General Electric, Lockheed-Martin, Exxon Mobil and others are seeking contracts for the sale of military equipment and the construction of factories inside Saudi Arabia as well.

It is also worth noting the timing of the announcement of the signing, 24 hours after publication of the elections in Iran. It appeared that Hasan Rouhani — who is reputedly pro-Western and built the good connections with Washington — won the presidency. But the Trump administration reads the map differently from the way Obama read it. Obama considered Ruhani a puppet of the ayatollahs.

The Saudis and the Sunni world view the elections differently from the way the Iranians wish the world would view it. Not as a victory for moderates, but a continuation of rule by the Revolutionary Guards and the ayatollahs. And as long as they are in control, the danger remains that Iran will continue its campaign of terror.

The Saudi journey was not simple or easy. The last two or three years have been hard for them. Their economy has been badly hurt by the low price of oil, and they realize the necessity of adapting to new economic conditions. Furthermore, the government in Riyadh is implementing deep budget cuts and raising taxes. The opposition is already accusing King Salman of wasting money on the U.S. deal. Salman himself says that this is a faulty judgment, and that the deal with the U.S. will be good for the country, not only militarily, but also for the economy. The Americans will invest billions in the kingdom, and thousands of jobs will be created for Saudis, especially for young people and the university graduates, among whom unemployment rates are at close to 25 percent.

The Saudis pride themselves on the giant deal, which restores them to center stage, and to a leading role in the Arab world. Among other things, they will claim that the arms they are acquiring will close the gap with Israel, besides outstripping the Iranians.

From now on, they say, the Americans will be obligated to us more than we will be obligated to them, and the resentment felt toward the Obama administration for distancing the U.S. from Riyadh will be erased.

In Israel, they received the guest well. But nothing can conceal the anxiety about what may be called the “Saudi danger.” This huge arsenal could at some time in the future pose a threat to Israel. Certainly, if there is any change in the Saudi leadership, one that would be more hostile.

The Americans were aware of this, and sought to reassure the Israelis: “We will preserve the qualitative edge between you.” But not everyone was reassured, even though the Americans pointed out that the Saudi request for the advanced F-35 stealth fighter was turned down.

But they will get the latest F-15’s and F-16’s. They will also get THAAD defense missiles, on the same level as the Israeli Arrow 2. These are missiles that can intercept Iranian ballistic threats, but could also be used on other targets.

The Saudis will also obtain 150 Blackhawk attack helicopters and 48 long-range cargo copters. Warships are on the purchase list, missile carriers with advanced radar, some of which are superior to the Israeli fleet.

The Israeli are concerned about something else, as well, in the fine print of the deal. Not only are the Americans selling them weapons; they will be assisting them to construct a defense industry comparable in quality to the U.S. In other words, Saudi Arabia will not merely be a warehouse for advanced weaponry; it will be an independent maker of weapons, which could enable it to close the gap with Israel.

President Trump gave a speech in Riyadh that was the boldest ever given by an American president against terrorism. And where did he give the speech? In Saudi Arabia, the source of millions if not billions of dollars used to finance terrorism around the world; where the al-Qaeda was born, and from where the perpetrators of September 11 originated. Most of the terror groups today continue to get financial support from the kingdom, without which they could not carry on their deadly activities.

Does President Trump not know this? It is fair to assume that he does. But he must believe that the partnership with the Saudis will bring about a reversal in the policy visa vis terrorism.

It will not be easy for the Saudis to change. But their leaders say they have no choice, because the Iranian enemy is already at their gates, and they must pay a price for the power to stop them. We don’t love the Israelis, either, the Saudis say; but in the global constellation that has formed, we require them and their capabilities, as part of the struggle against Iran.

Anyone who listened to President Trump’s speech in Riyadh noticed that it was from a prepared text. Very different from the one President Obama gave just a few years ago.

Mr. Trump went there to tell the Saudis that his predecessor was in error in abandoning them to the Iranian terror. He went to Riyadh to renew the old connection, he told them, and the Saudis applauded him.

All the signs that were hung on the road from the airport to Trump’s hotel in Riyadh contained the slogan, “Together we will win.”

The Saudis witnesses for themselves the change that their country was undergoing. The time when a president or a secretary of state Clinton would come and lecture them about democracy and human rights was over. Give us the tools with which we can fight our enemies, the Saudis said to the Americans, and cease the moralizing. On that basis, the Trump visit succeeded.

President Trump’s decision to go to Saudi Arabia before any other country after taking office told the government there that America has changed its strategy. The U.S. is not only returning to the Middle East; it is returning to stand by its allies, and without any reference to the end of American dependence on Saudi oil and its pivot to the Far East.

And so, onto the next leg of the trip to Israel. The tensions of the past with Washington were wiped away. Bridges were built to the future.

Does it mean that the administration will not make demands on Israel in the future?

Not at all. There will be demands and claims. But the discussion will be between true friends. And that is something entirely different.