The New Arab Logo

Breaking News
Trump should know: Bibi won't budge Open in fullscreen

Andrew Leber

Trump should know: Bibi won't budge

Prime Minister Netanyahu will likely weather any storm that blows in with President Trump [Getty]

Date of publication: 22 May, 2017

Share this page:
  • 0

  • twitter
Comment: There may be fireworks when the US president lands in Israel, but Netanyahu will be happy to brush off the desires of a flailing presidency, writes Andrew Leber.

As a second stop on his nine-day tour, President Trump heads to Israel on what will undoubtedly be the most tense stopover of his trip. True, lecturing the Muslim world on the nature of "radical Islamic terrorism" from the heart of Riyadh seems a fraught exercise, but the president's Saudi hosts seem intent on making all run smoothly for their new best friend in Washington.

Likewise, Pope Francis - despite months of carrying out the encyclical equivalent of subtweeting the president in speeches stressing the dignity of refugees and immigrants - has made it clear that he will refrain from criticising Trump when the president visits the Vatican.

No, Israel is where the stakes seem highest - for both parties. The Israeli press has picked up notes of concern among Prime Minister Netanyahu's retinue in recent weeks, as rumours mount that President Trump might use the occasion to press hard for peace talks, or demand concrete steps at curbing settlement activity.

Trump apparently won't be moving the US embassy to Jerusalem - at least not yet - while ardently pro-Israel Ambassador David Friedman has independently warned the Israeli press that Trump means business in securing a deal.

Likewise, in contrast to former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's abject Islamophobia, officials have telegraphed in advance that President Trump will speak openly on "the dignity of the Palestinians and their right to self-determination" - while waffling on whether the Western Wall is truly a part of the State of Israel.

There is little evidence that President Trump will deliver the goods when it comes to bringing Netanyahu's government to the bargaining table

Netanyahu, hardly a political naif, is also more than aware that President Trump tends to hold the views of the last person to spend time in a room with him - and on the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian debacle, the last notable figure on that score is Mahmoud Abbas, no doubt angling for greater US backing at the negotiating table.

Trump seems poised to clarify and ratchet up the offhand comments he made in February - definitely a two-state solution he's seeking this time - while emphasising "the dignity and right to self-determination" of the Palestinian people.

Read more: Trump's rambling, nonsensical Netanyahu press conference leaves many bewildered

But what a difference a few weeks can make.

To quote Donald J Trump, businessman, in The Art of the Deal: "You can create excitement, you can do wonderful promotion and get all kinds of press, and you can throw in a little hyperbole. But if you don't deliver the goods, people will eventually catch on."

Much as I hope to high heaven that I am wrong, there is little evidence that President Trump will deliver the goods when it comes to bringing Netanyahu's government to the bargaining table.

The idea that Trump is willing and able to pull out all the stops in pursuit of "the ultimate deal" between Israelis and Palestinians is now a pipe dream - if it was ever anything but.

President Trump's administration has been wracked by a snowballing series of scandals that has sent the national media cycle into overdrive

Some understandably hold the view Trump - seemingly unbeholden to anyone or anything - is able to pressure the Israelis in a way no calculating, vote-counting American politician would previously dare.

That theory has fared poorly when applied to US domestic politics, though - constructing meaningful policy amid a thicket of competing interests requires a degree of concentration and coordination that the Trump administration has thus far rarely displayed.

Making matters worse, President Trump's administration has been wracked by a snowballing series of scandals that has sent the national media cycle into overdrive.

  Read more: Washington's love-fest with Riyadh comes out into the open

Much as stories of palace intrigue can seem like inconsequential insider baseball to many Americans, these may finally be starting to register as at least some Republican leaders start to buckle under the pressure.

President Trump and his fractious coterie of advisors are haunted by the professional ghost of Mike Flynn (most recently accused of altering US plans to fight the Islamic State group while on the Turkish government's payroll), and the vengeful spirit of ousted FBI Director James Comey, whose investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia has now been taken over by former FBI head Robert Mueller.

Even worse, the latest scandal to set Twitter ablaze concerns Trump allegedly sharing otherwise-classified information with the Russian ambassador and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the Oval Office on a whim.

Bibi was more than content to wait out the former President Obama's periodic - if half-hearted - efforts at securing peace in the Middle East

With Israeli intelligence all but confirmed as the source of the IS-related intel, Netanyahu will have all the justification he needs - both to coalition allies and the broader public - to push back against any offhand demands made by Trump in the course of his visit.

Certainly, the Israeli press will have a field day with some of Trump's verbal flailing at the podium, especially if he tosses Netanyahu the odd curveball on settlement construction or openly implores him to come to the negotiating table - and sets a date.

Yet Bibi was more than content to wait out the former President Obama's periodic - if half-hearted - efforts at securing peace in the Middle East, confident that the ebb and flow of politics in the United States would shove peace talks further and further down the president's agenda until the end of his term in office.

The same dynamic now holds.

Whatever Netanyahu's challenges on the domestic front in Israel, nothing about the present US political scene suggests he need fear the kind of sustained, coordinated, and ever-so-slightly pro-Palestinian pressure that would be needed to truly back him and his coalition into a corner on signing a deal.

Even setting aside facile notions of a unified "Israel Lobby" at work in the United States, domestic US politics have long influenced the fate of Middle East Peace negotiations. The Trump administration's troubles at home suggest we may see some fireworks on his visit to Israel, but little indicates a meaningful effort to resolve the present conflict.

Bibi knows that the likelihood of President Trump seeing out a full term of office is diminishing with every news cycle. And in this epoch-defining conflict, characterised by decades of Israeli intransigence, Bibi will be happy to play the waiting game.


Andrew Leber is a PhD student in the department of government at Harvard University.

Follow him on Twitter: @AndrewMLeber


Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

 

The New ArabComments

Most Popular

Most Popular

    Read More