Trump and Netanyahu need to talk


It’s never good news for the Palestinians when a US president meets an Israeli prime minister. There is usually very little daylight between them when it comes to their mutual interests, especially with regard to the Palestinians’ future. But when Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu get together in Washington next month, Trump should have a serious tête-à-tête with Netanyahu while putting, at least for a while, the pleasantries and platitudes aside.

The visit comes on the heels of a downright lie by Netanyahu after he suggested he and the Trump administration had discussed an initiative to annex Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Netanyahu said he had been in talks with the American administration “for some time” on applying Israeli sovereignty to West Bank settlements, and then moments later he was rebuked when his comment drew a rare on the record denial from the White House, with a spokesman calling the claims “false.”

That such talks had never taken place led to a public disagreement between the two leaders and Trump, for all his closeness to Bibi, should not let this flat-out lie pass without censure. Sure, there are many right-wing Israeli politicians, Netanyahu included, who see under Trump a chance to advance plans to annex part or all of the West Bank into Israel. Israel’s right believes Trump could provide Israel political and diplomatic cover, blocking any attempts to sanction Israel at the UN were annexation to proceed.

But talks on annexation never happened and, although there is no guarantee, they probably never will, not after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and commenced with plans to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, two grand prizes none of Trump’s predecessors awarded to Israel and which Israel never thought would be bestowed by a US administration. The Jerusalem announcement has severely harmed the peace process and there is no telling when and if the Palestinians will ever return to the negotiating table. Even though Trump fulfilled a campaign promise and has called the Jerusalem recognition one of the highlights of his first year in office, his “ultimate deal” is in jeopardy, much of that because of the Jerusalem announcement which, as Trump has alluded to before, Israel did not lift a finger for.

As close as Trump is to Netanyahu, the US leader understands that he just cannot continue giving and giving to Israel for almost nothing in return.

This leads to something that Trump said in a recent interview with an Israeli newspaper and which he ought to remind Netanyahu about, that Israel had to “be very careful” with settlements because they are “something that very much complicates, and always have complicated, making peace”.

In the same interview, and this again should be brought up in the Oval Office, Trump said neither Israelis nor Palestinians “are looking to make peace”. It’s not the first time Trump has singled out Israel by name as failing in the peace process, but it could be another pointed reminder, as he sits face to face with Netanyahu, that he is not convinced the premier is committed to the process. Indeed, Netanyahu was never going to be the Israeli prime minister who was going to be the father of Palestinian statehood. His ideology makes it difficult to imagine that he’d ever agree to anything close to the current Palestinian narrative.

And who knows? Now that the police have recommended that Netanyahu be indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, he might not be around much longer.

Although Trump has been closer to Netanyahu than almost any other world leader, the evidence suggests that if Netanyahu is forced to leave office, Trump will not be shedding too many tears.