Listening to the reactions of Israeli politicians across the political spectrum in the 24 hours following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s White House press conference with US President Donald Trump, one would think the Middle East conflict was over.
The Israeli Right won. The Palestinians and the Israeli Left lost.
The two-state solution is dead.
Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett rushed to proclaim victory, saying that the end of an era had come. He magnanimously credited Netanyahu, knowing full well that the Israeli media were giving credit to him (Bennett) and painting Netanyahu as his servant in Washington.
Zionist Union MK Erel Margalit, who like Bennett is advised by strategist Moshe Klughaft, also declared that “the extreme Right won tonight.” Margalit, who is running for Labor Party leader, has an interest in painting the Left’s current leadership as pathetic losers.
But with all due respect to the spin doctors of the Israeli Right and Left, there is a world outside Israeli politics, and in that world, nothing practical actually happened in Washington Wednesday night.
All Trump said was that he was open to hearing from the Israelis and Palestinians what solutions they want to their own conflict. Far from killing the two-state solution, he announced that he would diligently pursue a deal.
Those on the Israeli Left who praised Trump’s calls for Israeli flexibility and restraining settlement construction were also celebrating prematurely. And politicians who said that Trump acted no differently from former president Barack Obama when it came to settlements were wrong.
Trump tells Israel to ‘hold back on settlements’ during meeting with Netanyahu at White House on Feb. 15, 2017 (credit: REUTERS)
Unlike Obama, who announced a not-one-brick policy for everywhere over the pre-1967 lines at a press conference with a stunned Netanyahu, Trump asked nicely for Israel to “hold back on settlements for a little bit,” without defining what that meant in front of the cameras.
Saying “we’ll work something out” before heading to a private meeting with Netanyahu is as far as it gets from what happened with Obama.
The truth is Wednesday’s press conference was just the start of a process that can go in countless different directions – some that the Israeli Right would like, some that the Left would like, and some that neither would like.
As Trump said, this will be “the first of many productive meetings” of the president with Netanyahu. Obama and Netanyahu met 17 times in eight years, even though they did not like each other, so there will be plenty more chances for Netanyahu and Trump – unless the prime minister is forced to leave office due to a criminal investigation.
And if that happens, it will really be time for those Israeli spin doctors to get to work.
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