October 24, 2018

Excuse my impolite question: Why is Trump (possibly) going to Israel?


If President Trump is coming to Israel – and it is likely that he intends to do so – there is both opportunity and risk involved. Will he use the occasion to announce that the US embassy is moving to Jerusalem? If he does, Israelis will cheer him and his visit will make sense. If not, Israelis are going to be disappointed and a question will arise: why would a president want to come if the ­only thing he will achieve is disappointment?

On the other hand, if Trump comes to Israel, moves the embassy, and at the same time announces his grand peace initiative, the Palestinians are going to be disappointed. Thus, his chance of succeeding in advancing the initiative will be reduced.

And there is also the option that he will come, press for his initiative, and not move the embassy. In such case, the Palestinians will be the ones cheering him and Israelis will scratch their heads in disbelief: is that the supportive Trump they were hoping for?

In other words: When Trump comes to Israel, he will be greeted with great fanfare, but ultimately, it is quite likely that someone is going to get disappointed. As Seth Lipsky put it: “It would be unwise to omit a word of caution. The trip is likely, reports say, but not a done deal. And, more substantively, there’s a risk that Mr. Trump could be tempted to press his luck at peace-making.”


Why would Trump want to go to Israel? I know, this seems like an ungrateful question. Israel is happy with every presidential visit, and would gladly welcome a presidential visit. Then again, there is an assumption that the President’s time is valuable and that his traveling to a faraway foreign country must serve some goal.

But of course, no one could tell the president that it’s better if he comes next year, when the initiative is more than half-baked.


Israel is probably one of very few places in the world where Trump will be a welcome guest. Before the 2016 election, most Israelis wanted his rival, Hillary Clinton, to win the election. Today, we don’t really know. In a few post-election surveys it appeared that Israelis were getting used to Trump and are getting convinced that he will be friendly towards Israel. This is an impression that the President can easily ruin with a short visit and a few unplanned, off-the-cuff comments.


One wonders if a Trump visit will be the beginning of an election campaign. Trump is currently Netanyahu’s strongest card. They have a relationship. They bond. They understand one another. You can easily imagine a Netanyahu campaign focused on the special relations and Bibi’s unique ability to maintain them is a stormy era.


It will be interesting to see Israel’s left respond to Trump if and when he comes for a visit. In Israel – as in other places – leftists loath Trump. Merav Michaeli, a Labor MK, mourned Trump’s victory half year ago, calling it a “sad day” and saying that Trump carries “a flag of hatred” toward women. And she wasn’t the only one.

On the other hand, being openly hostile to a distinguished guest – a guest  that most Israelis want to accommodate and welcome with warmth – could be a problematic move for them. Yes, some fringe voters might like it. But it would surely make more Israelis feel that the left is not serious about running the country – because no one can claim to want to run the country by insulting the US President.

Watching the reaction of American Jews as Trump is welcomed by cheering, adoring Israelis – that is, if he does not disappoint them – will also be interesting. As I wrote a few times, Trump poses a challenge for the relations between Israeli and American Jews. This will be front and center during his visit. “What will happen if American Jews see the good relationship that President Trump has with Israel? It will make many of them uneasy. It will make them doubt Israel’s values and morality. It will alienate them from Israel.” Of course, not all of them. But surely some.