JERUSALEM — In a brief speech at the Israel Museum, President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he feels confident, after two days of meetings, that the lsraelis and the Palestinians are eager for a peace deal.
“Palestinians are ready to reach for peace,” Trump proclaimed, after a morning meeting in Bethlehem with Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority. “I know you heard it before. I’m telling you, that’s what I do, they are ready to reach for peace.” He added that “my very good friend Benjamin….Benjamin Netanyahu wants peace.”
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But it is unclear if either side actually shares Trump’s confidence. During a meeting in the Oval Office with Trump earlier this month, Abbas — an 82-year-old leader who is in succession mode and lacks an electoral mandate — threw his hands up in the air and shrugged when Trump expressed confidence about a renewed peace process.
And while introducing Trump on Tuesday, Netanyahu took a dig at Abbas, who would have to be his partner in any peace deal. The Israeli prime minister expressed skepticism that Abbas would have condemned the Manchester terrorist attack that killed 22 if it had been perpetrated, instead, by a Palestinian suicide bomber on Israeli victims. More likely, Netanyahu said, that bomber “would have received a stipend from the Palestinian Authority.”
Israeli journalists covering Trump’s visit also noted that Netanyahu, an embattled politician who is dependent on his far-right coalition government here, has tried to avoid talking about peace since the 2015 election. While Trump didn’t outline what exact steps he wants to pursue to get a peace deal, he vouched for the credibility of the players in the region. "Whether this relieves pressure or makes concessions more likely remains to be seen," noted Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Even if the Middle East leaders are more skeptical than Trump about peace, they gave him a warm greeting here. On Tuesday, Trump received a standing ovation from the audience — which included Republican mega donor Sheldon Adelson — when he proclaimed: “Iran’s leaders routinely call for Israel’s destruction. Not with Donald J. Trump. Believe me.”
Overall, Trump’s visit to Israel was more symbolic than substantive, and his speech on Tuesday reflected that.
"The president opted not to make policy news in Israel — no change of status on Jerusalem, no announcement of a new round of peace negotiations," Satloff said. "Instead, he went for symbols — the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Yad Vashem, the Church of the Nativity."
Trump mostly used his address as a brief sequel to the meatier address on Islam he delivered in Riyadh on Sunday. There, he attempted to reset relations with the Muslim world and called on Arab leaders to take a tougher stand against terrorism.
After the speech, his aides pointed to the toughest rhetoric as the call to action to leaders to “drive out the terrorists. Drive out the extremists. Drive them out of your places of worship. Drive them out of your communities. Drive them out of your holy land and drive them out of this earth.”
Speaking in Jerusalem, he issued a similar challenge. “Conflict cannot continue forever,” Trump said. “The only question is when nations will decide that they have had enough, enough bloodshed, enough killing. Change must come from within, it can only come from within.”
Trump, who has rattled members of the Israeli intelligence community by allegedly sharing their confidential information with the Russians, on Tuesday stated that “America’s security partnership with Israel is stronger than ever. Under my administration you see the difference: big, big beautiful difference.”
But he went on to tick off defense programs that predate his administration, as his examples of those differences. Trump pointed to Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense program, which has been in operation for more than a decade, as well as David’s Sling, designed to intercept medium- and long-range missiles, which was first tested by the Israeli Defense Forces in 2012.
For two days here, Trump has been touting his hope for peace — despite warnings from experts on the region who have hinted that now is not the right time to restart negotiations.
On Monday, Trump noted that his administration’s two leaders on the issue — Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt and Israeli Ambassador David Friedman — both left behind plum private sector jobs because of their belief in the possibility of peace.
“I’ve heard it’s one of the toughest deals of all, but I have a feeling that we’re going to get there eventually, I hope,” Trump said Monday night, after taking a tour of Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem. “There’s a lot of love out there.”
On Monday, Trump, who at home is enmeshed in deepening Russia-related scandals, basked in some of the love that was reflected back at him.
“Thank you,” he told the audience after it gave him a standing ovation. “I like you, too.”