I watched the Donald Trump-Binyamin Netanyahu press conference live yesterday (you can see it here) and intended to immediately post my thoughts on it. Alas, real life got in the way. At least I have had time to digest what I heard and reflect on my key takeaways.
This was a huge victory for Binyamin Netanyahu
In my mind, what I heard was a huge victory for the Israeli Prime Minister. The two-state solution is no longer something to be imposed on Israel. It is still a possible result, as far as President Trump is concerned, but not the mandatory result, as it was with Barack Obama.
So, I’m looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one. I thought for a while the two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two but honestly, if Bibi and if the Palestinians — if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best.
So the pressure is well and truly off to arrive at a deal anytime soon.
Also, unlike the previous administration, Trump did not spend a disproportionate amount of time on Israeli “settlement building” vs palestinian obligations (in contrast to what we heard from John Kerry following UN resolution 2334). But it was not just a matter of the relative time devoted to the topics – there was a real difference in tone. Trump’s comments on Israeli “settlement” building were rather muted, and he showed understanding that it is a tough issue for Israel and that he is confident in Israel’s good faith. In contrast, he sounded way sterner when it came to the palestinian obligation to recognize Israel and end the hatred and incitement (which were the exact things Netanyahu mentioned as preconditions for peace).
As far as settlements, I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit. We’ll work something out but I would like to see a deal be made, I think a deal will be made.
I think that — the Israelis are gonna have to show some flexibility, which is hard, it’s hard to do. They’re gonna have to show the fact that they really want to make a deal. I think our new concept that we’ve been discussing actually for a while is something that allows them to show more flexibility than they have in the past, because we have a lot bigger canvas to play with.
And I think they’ll do that. I think they very much would like to will make a deal, or I wouldn’t be happy and I wouldn’t be here and I wouldn’t be as optimistic as I am. I really think — I can tell you from the standpoint of me being from the standpoint of Israel, I really believe they want to make a deal. And they’d like to see the big deal.
I think the Palestinians have to get rid of some of that hate that they are taught from a very young age. They’re taught tremendous hate. I’ve seen what they’re taught. And you can talk about flexibility there too, but it starts at a very young age and it starts in the schoolroom. And they have to acknowledge, as you know, they’re going to have to do that.
There’s no way a deal can be made if they’re not ready to acknowledge a very, very great and important country. And I think they’re going to be willing to do that also.
Binyamin Netanyahu has adopted the new “language” of indigenous rights
I don’t think it is a coincidence that we heard this from Netanyahu:
Well, the Chinese are called Chinese because they come from China. The Japanese are called Japanese because they come from Japan. Well, Jews are called Jews because they come from Judea. This is our ancestral homeland. Jews are not foreign colonialists in Judea.
This came a day after I posted similar comments from Senator Tom Cotton.
As far as I can tell, this is a change in the discourse brought about by our own Ryan Bellerose. Since Ryan came on to the scene, I have been seeing it more and more among Israel advocates, and am now hearing it with pro-Israel politicians culminating with this from the Israeli Prime Minister. This is a welcome development after decades of Israeli governments, at best, not pushing back against, and, at worst, acknowledging, the prevailing palestinian narrative of a dispossed indigenous people.
The media have take away from the press conference whatever suits them
The mainstream media’s reporting of the press conference confirms their agenda-driven reporting. Have a look at the headlines in Google News and you will see for yourself.
Then there’s the editorials
In a barrage of editorials, the New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times described Trump’s statements as “nonsensical,” the idea of a one state solution as “absurd” and said that by withdrawing from decades-old US policy the president was instead increasing the chances of violent conflict.
Note the types of media outlets Trump did accept questions from. Clue: not the same ones with these headlines and editorials.
I don’t think Trump is antisemitic, but he isn’t doing himself any favors
Much has been made of Trump’s almost non-sequitur answer to a question about rising antisemitism in the US, in which he began by speaking about the extent of his election victory.
Mr. President, since your election campaign and even after your victory, we’ve seen a sharp rise in anti-Semitic — anti- Semitic incidents across the United States. And I wonder, what do you say to those among the Jewish community in the states and in Israel and maybe around the world who believe and feel that your administration is playing with xenophobia and maybe racist tones?
And Mr. Prime Minister, do you agree to what the president just said about the need for Israel to restrain or to stop settlement activity in the West Bank? And if we could follow up on my friend’s question — simple question: Do you back off from your vision to the (inaudible) conflict of two-state solution as you lay out in (inaudible) speech? Or you still support it?
Well, I just want to say that we are, you know, very honored by the victory that we had — 306 electoral college votes. We were not supposed to crack 220. You know that, right? There was no way to 221, but then they said there’s no way to 270. And there’s tremendous enthusiasm out there.
It is hard to understand why he began answering in this way – perhaps it was to imply his support base extends way beyond the far right wing that counts antisemites among its core members. But it clearly kept the door open for those wanting to accuse him of being an antisemite himself, even though the next part of his answer was more on point.
I will say that we are going to have peace in this country. We are going to stop crime in this country. We are going to do everything within our power to stop long simmering racism and every other thing that’s going on. There’s a lot of bad things that have been taking place over a long period of time.
I think one of the reasons I won the election is we have a very, very divided nation, very divided. And hopefully, I’ll be able to do something about that. And I, you know, it was something that was very important to me.
As far as people, Jewish people, so many friends; a daughter who happens to be here right now; a son-in-law, and three beautiful grandchildren. I think that you’re going to see a lot different United States of America over the next three, four or eight years. I think a lot of good things are happening.
And you’re going to see a lot of love. You’re going to see a lot of love.
Having said that, Trump did seem – to me at least – to be specifically addressing concerns in the wake of the infamous Holocaust Day statements that did not mention Jews, when he said this:
The state of Israel is a symbol to the world of resilience in the face of oppression. I can think of no other state that’s gone through what they’ve gone, and of survival in the face of genocide. We will never forget what the Jewish people have endured.
So I don’t believe for one second Donald Trump is antisemitic. But he isn’t the most articulate speaker either.