Wednesday, May 3, 2017
Which Trump will Mahmoud Abbas meet at the White House?
What do you think about Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority? Do you admire him?
I don't. I believe he is an enemy of Israel. I believe he is sophisticated at telling lies about Israel and about his true goals for Israel. I do not believe he wants peace with Israel.
That's my opinion. You are free to entertain your own thoughts about him.
I do believe he's no fool. In fact, given the political universe he inhabits, I believe he is particularly cunning and ruthless. He is a spectacular liar. He has to be, in order to survive.
When a man is ruthless and cunning--and bends the truth as a magician bends spoons--beware. He is no pushover, no matter how powerful you are.
Does Donald Trump understand this?
You should remember this question because Abbas is visiting the US. He's meeting for the first time with new US president Donald Trump in Washington, DC.
This Abbas-Trump meeting will be both public and private. The public meeting(s) will be scripted, polite and pleasant.
The private meeting(s), however, are a different story. That's where public masks can come off. It's where each participant can gain a special, revealing insight into the other, an insight that could change history.
Abbas doesn't know what's under Donald Trump's public mask. Will he find out? More important, will what he discovers give him power--or will it mislead him into a conclusion that's false? No one knows.
No one knows what Donald Trump will say to Mahmoud Abbas in private. No one knows how tough--or soft--he is under his public mask.
No one knows if Abbas will meet the Donald Trump who has boldly said he'll move the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem--or a Trump who backs away from bold promises.
Away from the spotlight, will Trump be commanding or deferential? Will he tell Abbas he expects to see peace? Or will he be admiring, and simply tell Abbas he is the prefect 'peace partner' for Israel? No one knows.
There are many questions about what could happen at this meeting between these two men. One thing will never change. Abbas is cunning and ruthless. He knows how to lie. He'll have few questions about how to interact with Trump. He'll know exactly what to say--and what to do.
He will take his measure of Donald Trump according to his own ruthless yardstick. That yardstick is not Western. it is not 'diplomatic'. It is not nuanced or polite.
It says, you respect one who has more power than you--and is clearly ready to use that power against you. It also says, a supposedly powerful leader who defers to you is weak, afraid to use his power--and is therefore capable of being manipulated according to your own agenda if you are ruthless enough to stick to that agenda.
Abbas is ruthless enough. His agenda is clear enough. He will not waiver.
He has, with ruthless accuracy, already 'measured' the deferential John Kerry and the admiring Barack Obama. He has then 'played' both men with ease.
He will now meet in private with Donald Trump. He will 'measure' the man for himself.
Which Trump will he meet? We don't know. But the answer could determine what happens to Israel during the next four years.