Sunday, May 21, 2017
Trump in Israel: US, Abbas play; Israel numb
US President Donald Trump is scheduled to land in Israel sometime tonight-tomorrow. His arrival has already unleashed a storm of news about Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). What we've been seeing here over the last five days is, in my opinion, unlike anything we've seen here for a long time--if ever.
First, most of the news coming out of Israel is about the excitement that always attends a visiting dignitary; the newest 'best plan for peace'; traffic announcements; and analyses of Trump or Trump/Netanyahu/Abbas. The only politician who appears to have spoken out strongly is the head of the Jewish Home Party, Education Minister Naftali Bennett. He wants Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to tell president Trump that the US Embassy belongs only in Jerusalem. Otherwise, Israel seems muted about Trump's arrival.
Meanwhile, there's a storm of news coming out of the US--and from Ramallah, the power-seat of the PA.
The news from the US is a chorus of not-so-good-news-for-Israel. For example, Trump supposedly will: not invite Netanyahu to go with him to visit Israel's Western Wall; tell Netanyahu he'll have to curb 'settlements'; tell Israel that the White House has made Israeli politician Naftali Bennett a 'marked man' for making 'outrageous' demands about the US Embassy; not move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Because of a series of comments Trump has made both before and after being elected President, many Israelis have come to have high expectations about him. They've believed him to be pro-Israel without reservation, a true pro-Israel supporter. Now, reports from the US make it appear that Trump has a lot of reservations--if all the US stories we've seen are in fact true.
Nobody knows if not-so-good-for-Israel reports from the US are truth or fakery--or, if fakery, why they've been sent out. At any rate, this flood of non-supportive news from the US might be the reason Israelis have seen this headline: Yossi Verter, "The chaos before Trump: why it's convenient for Netanyahu to play dumb about Trump's plans for Israel", haaretz, May 19, 2017. It looks as if our Prime Minister is as baffled by this sudden coldness from the US as the rest of us.
Right now, the two most appropriate words to describe Israeli feelings about the upcoming Trump visit are, 'perplexed', and 'subdued'.
This sudden 'quietness' has shown up in the polls. In January, 2017, some 79 percent of Israelis polled felt Trump was more pro-Israel than pro-Palestinian (Jack Moore, "Trump's popularity plummets among Israeli Jews ahead of visit", newsweek, May 19, 2017). Now, that number is 56 percent (ibid).
Israelis aren't just cautious. They're numb. They're perplexed: what 's Trump up to? No one knows.
The PA, however, is definitely not perplexed--or subdued. It's brimming with optimism. Abbas sees Trump bringing peace. Abbas says he's ready for that peace. He's even declared what he wants with this peace: a new airport, a seaport, a new resort at Eilat--all for Palestinian Authority use only. Oh, and he's already made it clear that when it comes to sitting down face-to-face with Israel to negotiate peace, the PA isn't quite ready just yet to do that.
Israel's perplexity and Abbas' bouyant optimism reminds one of the Purim story. There, too, citizens reacted to current events with a sense of 'perplexity'. At one point in the Purim story, the evil Haman convinces the king to allow Haman to send out letters to all in the empire, to tell them, essentially, it's time to murder Jews. After sending out the letters, the king and Haman sit down 'convivially'--and "the city Shushan (the capital) was perplexed" (Megillat Esther, 3:15). What they had just seen unfold regarding Haman and the king seemed to make no sense.
Trump's behavior--and Abbas' behavior--seem to make no sense to us in Israel.
In the Purim story, the Divine Hand was not visible. HaShem worked behind the scenes. We only saw what He had intended--to save the Jews and punish Haman--after the fact, not before.
Some of us see a similar Divine Hand behind the scene here. If ever there was evidence of a Divine hand behind the stage--setting that stage for something historic--it's with Trump's visit. No one knows what Trump intends, everyone wonders about Abbas' bouyancy.
Is there a more insightful way to explain the perplexity and suddenly numb caution of the Israelis--and the almost-euphoria of Abbas?
HaShem has a Plan. We, on the other hand, are perplexed. What could He be planning for us?