(Central Israel) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been warmly greeted and embraced this week by President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and by the Congressional leadership of both parties.
As I told Laura Ingraham on her radio show today, the contrast between what we’re seeing unfold with the Obama years could not be more vivid — “it’s night and day.”
Understandably, the five critical questions I raised on this blog yesterday remain to be answered. It will take some time for the Trump team to define its Mideast policies in all these key areas in granular detail, and for Trump and Netanyahu to come to agreement on how best to work together vis-à-vis Iran, ISIS, the Palestinians, and the extraordinary open door that currently exists with moderate Sunni Arab regimes in the region.
But one thing is crystal clear: U.S.-Israeli relations are stronger and healthier than they have ever been. May our enemies take notice.
A few observations on the dramatic last twenty-four hours:
- We finally have an American President who understands that the major threat in the Mideast to the Western world is Radical Islam, and that Israel is a large part of the solution, not the central problem in the region — this is an enormous change from the last eight years and it will have very practical policy effects in the days ahead.
- During Wednesday’s joint press conference, President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu sounded in synch on the threat posed by Iran and how terrible is the Iran nuclear deal agreed to by President Obama. [To read the full transcript of the press conference, please click here.]
- What remains to be seen are the details of the Trump administration to counter the Iran nuclear, missile and terrorism threat.
- The good news: Mr. Trump has quickly imposed new economic sanctions on Iran for their illegal missile testing. But much more needs to be done, including moving U.S. military assets — including two aircraft carrier battle groups — into the region to send a clear signal to the ayatollahs in Tehran that there’s a new sheriff in town.
- More good news: Trump and Netanyahu both spoke of the importance of reaching out to the Sunni Arab states and finding a way to advance security and peace with them. President Obama consistently refused to work in a pro-active and bold manner with Israel, Jordan, Egypt, the Gulf States, the Saudis, Morocco and others to counter the Iran and ISIS threats. But something new and positive appears to be emerging.
- Yes, President Trump made big headlines by saying he is not committed necessarily to a “two state solution” to Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
- To be clear, Trump didn’t actually say he was opposed to a two-state solution, but he said his position was to ask the parties to negotiate and agree upon something that works for both of them.
- In doing so, Trump revealed an understandable degree of skepticism that the Palestinians actually want a two-state solution that involves living in peace next door to a Jewish Israel state.
- To be clear: as an Evangelical, I am commanded to love my neighbors and my enemies, and I do love the Palestinians. Indeed, I’m doing my best to get to know Palestinians from all walks of life, and especially Palestinian pastors and Christian ministry leaders, many of whom I count as friends. I sincerely want the Palestinians to live in freedom and opportunity. I long to see their daily lives and future fortunes improved. I want every Palestinian parent to be able to raise their families in security and dignity, free from terrorism, poverty and injustices of all kinds. I’m especially heart-broken to see the tragedy that has befallen the Palestinians in Gaza who live under the tyranny of Hamas and deserve to be liberated immediately.
- At the same time, I find myself baffled that Palestinian leaders have consistently rejected a two-state solution for seven decades, ever since they and their colleagues in the Arab world rejected the U.N. Partition Plan in November 1947. In the final months of the British Mandate, the Partition Plan specifically called for the creation of both a Jewish state and a new Arab state West of the Jordan River. It wasn’t all that the Jewish leaders or people of the time wanted, but they said yes. The Palestinian Arabs said no.
- The Jordanians built a vibrant, forward-looking state in the aftermath of the British Mandate. So have the Israelis. Why do the Palestinian leaders continue to reject peace, prosperity and progress? They have been offered a sovereign state of their own repeatedly since 1947, yet they say no again and again. It’s deeply painful to watch such rejectionism, and the consequences it has for the average Palestinian person.
- What’s more, it’s painful to watch Palestinian school children be taught to glorify terrorists, and to yearn for the destruction of the State of Israel so that they can have all of the land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. I’m not saying Israel has done everything right over years. Sadly, this is just not the case. But how are we ever going to have calm and security and a meaningful future on both sides if Palestinian children are being taught to embrace hatred and violence? Israeli schools don’t fuel such incitement. Rather, Israeli Jewish children are mandated to learn Arabic from the fifth grade up.
- Yes, Prime Minister Netanyahu side-stepped using the term “two-state solution.” Many Arabs are furious at this. But let’s be clear: Netanyahu did not rule out two states living side-by-side in peace. Rather, he raised doubts that the Palestinian leadership are serious about making peace.
- Specifically, Netanyahu reiterated his key points from his famous 2009 speech at Bar Ilan University — peace with the Palestinians requires two things: 1) Palestinians to accept Israel as Jewish state; 2) Israeli security control west of Jordan River.
- Notably, Netanyahu also did not say he was preparing to annex Judea and Samaria (ie, the West Bank), as many in his government are urging him to do (at least to annex “Area C.”)
- Hopefully, Arab leaders will examine carefully what Netanyahu did and didn’t say.
- Netanyahu did ask Trump for the U.S. to recognize Israel’s annexation (years ago) of the Golan Heights as sovereign Israeli territory critical to our defensible borders. I hope Trump will agree to this. It is inconceivable to imagine the danger Israel would currently be in if the bloodthirsty Assad regime controlled the Golan Heights today (like so many American foreign policy experts insisted over the years should happen).
- It is rare for an American President to call out the Palestinian leadership for incitement and teaching hatred to their children in their schools and textbooks, but President Trump was factually and morally correct to do so.
- Noteworthy: This is first time since Netanyahu became the Prime Minister of Israel for the first time in 1996 that he has ever had a Republican President to work with.
- Netanyahu was beaming during the press conference, and it is clear that there is a much warmer chemistry between him and President Trump than there ever was between him and President Obama.
- Also noteworthy: 1) President Trump did not explicitly promise to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem; he said he’d like to and he’s looking at it carefully; 2) Trump told Bibi both sides have to compromise; 3) Trump said he doesn’t want to see more settlement growth, but that this would be discussed further in their private meetings.
- Netanyahu will remain in Washington for several days. He had breakfast with Vice President Pence this morning. He met with Speaker Paul Ryan. He met with Congressional leaders from both parties. He’s also doing some media interviews.
- Finally, it should be noted that Netanyahu is under investigation by police authorities here in Israel. There is speculation that he could soon be indicted on various charges. It’s not clear whether this is a political witch hunt, or whether the allegations have solid facts supporting them. But it should be noted that it’s possible that Netanyahu could have to step down from office — or could be removed from office — in the months ahead.
- Who would replace Netanyahu as Israel’s prime minister? Let’s cross that bridge only if we get to it.
- For now, let’s pray for both U.S. and Israeli leaders — for wisdom, discernment, clarity, and courage to chart a new and healthier path forward for both countries. Please pray, too, for their families and their advisors, and for Members of Congress — both Democrats and Republicans — to work together to safeguard America and our allies like Israel from the threats of Radical and Apocalyptic Islam.
[This column is based on my personal beliefs and opinions. I share them in my personal capacity as a dual US-Israeli citizen and an author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of The Joshua Fund, which is a non-profit organization and takes no political or legislative positions.]
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