(Washington, D.C.) — Let’s be honest. The cynics and haters won’t be able to say one good thing about it. But the only fair analysis is that the President’s two-day visit to Israel was the most successful visit by an American leader to the Jewish State in decades.
It was meticulously planned, remarkably well executed, safe from start to finish, and it accomplished just what it had to. What’s more, the visit didn’t get derailed by unforced errors or unnecessary controversies.
Above all, President Trump’s visit projected the image of a reengaged American superpower in the region, profoundly reset and immensely strengthened the relationship between the U.S. and Israel, so badly strained after the eight years of the Obama administration. This is a very good and highly welcomed development.
The President had four clear objectives for the visit. He came:
- To show his love for the State of Israel and reaffirm the U.S.-Israeli alliance
- To stand in solidarity with the Israeli people against radical Islamist terrorism — especially the threat of Iran and ISIS — and in solidarity with the Jewish people who suffered catastrophically in the Holocaust
- To visit Jewish and Christian holy and historic sites and show respect for both faiths
- To meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to discuss next steps towards peace
He accomplished all this in spades. Indeed, to his credit, Mr. Trump is now:
- The first U.S. President ever to visit Israel on his first official trip abroad.
- The first U.S. President to visit the Western Wall, the holiest site in modern Judaism, and spend time in prayer and reflection there.
- The first U.S. President to fly directly from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to Tel Aviv, Israel (prompting Prime Minister Netanyahu to say he hopes that a regional peace can be established that would allow him to fly from Tel Aviv to Riyadh.)
These firsts — plus his clearly warm and personal interactions with Israeli leaders and his equally warm and encouraging official words reaffirming the U.S.-Israeli alliance in all of his prepared remarks — were deeply appreciated by the Israeli people.
Another big moment came when the President met in Bethlehem with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas: “Peace can never take root in an environment where violence is tolerated, funded and even rewarded,” Mr. Trump said during his public remarks, at Mr. Abbas’ side. “We must be resolute in condemning such acts in a single unified voice.”
As the Times of Israel noted, this was a “reference to the salaries paid by the [Palestinian Authority] to jailed Palestinian terrorists and to the families of Palestinian prisoners killed while committing terror attacks.”
The President should be commended for raising this immensely important issue. As I’ve written, “It is impossible to move forward with any kind of peace process if the Palestinian government is paying more than $300 million a year to reward terrorists and their families. The Israeli government has called for an immediate repeal of this PA law and practice. The U.S. and other Arab governments should do so, as well, in order to truly move the prospects for real and lasting peace forward.”
Hopefully we will soon learn that the President and his aides pressed this point even more in private discussions with Mr. Abbas.
On a separate note, I found it encouraging to see an American leader praying and meditating at the Western Wall. It was also encouraging to see him bring his family — including his Jewish daughter and son-in-law — to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum, to show their respects to the six million Jews who perished at the hands of the Nazis.
What’s more, consider what the President did not do on this trip. He:
- Did not unveil an American-imposed peace plan and pressure Israel to accept it
- Did not even use the words “two state solution” during his entire visit
- Did not criticize Israeli settlements, or mention them publicly at all
- Did not criticize Israeli policies of any kind
- Did not surprise the Israelis with major announcements of any kind, much less any policies that weren’t carefully discussed in advance
- Did not go off message, either in his public remarks or on Twitter
Given the train wreck of the last eight years, and the tumultuous nature of the President’s first 100 days, these are not small matters. Coming on the heels of a very successful — and impressive — visit to Saudi Arabia, they suggest Mr. Trump’s seriousness about rebuilding U.S. alliances in the epicenter and creating a united front against the forces of Iran and ISIS.
True, the President did not announce that he was moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, though he has repeatedly promised to do so, and which he should do. That said, most Israelis won’t be bothered by this. The reset of the alliance is what matters most, and this was advanced beautifully.
What does the future hold? That’s a great question. Even while saying countering Iran and eradicating the Islamic State are his top regional priorities, the President seems determined to get a comprehensive peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians. Most experts see very little chance of a breakthrough any time soon. Indeed, there’s a very real risk that such efforts could distract from efforts to deal with Iran and ISIS. I’ll analyze this in the weeks ahead.
For now, it’s enough to be grateful for a successful presidential visit to the epicenter. Finally we have an administration that wants to project American leadership in the region. Finally we have an administration that wants to reset and strengthen the U.S.-Israeli alliance. Finally we have an administration willing to call out radical Islamist terrorism. Indeed, finally we have an administration willing and able to recognize — and determined to capitalize on — the historic strategic alignment underway in the region between Israel and the Sunni Arabs.
Let’s be grateful that some of our prayers have been answered. And as we continue praying for the peace of Jerusalem, and for stability and security for everyone in the region, let’s keep praying for U.S., Israeli and Arab leaders to have the wisdom to make continued progress, despite so many obstacles, challenges and enemies.
- VIDEO of address by President Trump at the Israel Museum
- Remarks by President Trump at the Israel Museum (full text)
- Remarks by President Trump at Yad Vashem (full text)
- Remarks by President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu in Joint Statement (full text, at the PM’s Residence)
- PM Netanyahu’s remarks at the Israel Museum (full text)
- PM Netanyahu’s remarks at Yad Vashem (full text)
- PM Netanyahu welcomes US President Trump at BGI Airport (full text)
Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Trump at The Israel Museum.
President Trump meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.
President Trump and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem.
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