JD Thompson reports from Tel Aviv on President Trump’s trip to Israel and his final day.
US President Donald Trump’s final day in Israel was mostly successful, following his arrival Monday from Saudi Arabia. Overall, Mr. Trump had an uneventful, anticlimactic tour of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
The day started with a 10:00 AM trip to Bethlehem for a meeting with Palestinian Authority leader, Mahmoud Abbas. There were questions about whether Donald Trump would visit the Church of the Nativity, which is the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in Bethlehem, which he ultimately skipped.
At 1:00 PM, President Trump continued with a wreath-laying ceremony at Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to Holocaust victims. Yad Vashem is the second-most-visited Israeli tourist site, after the Western Wall.
As we remember this dark time in history of human suffering, let us recommit to never forget the lessons of the Holocaust
Before departing, an odd note was left in the memorial’s guest book signed by the President and First Lady stating, “It is a great honor to be here with all of my friends – So amazing + will Never Forget!”
Some were offended by the entry, comparing it with that of former U.S. President Barack Obama, who visited in 2008.
At 1:30 PM, President Trump held a press conference at the Israel Museum across from the Knesset. This press conference was anticipated to be the major event of President Trump’s visit to Israel.
“Diverse nations can unite around the goal of protecting innocent life, upholding human dignity, and promoting peace and stability in the region,” said Trump. “My administration is committed to pursuing such a coalition, and we have already made substantial progress during this trip.” The statement appears at odds with some of President Trump’s former statements and actions on human rights.
Donald Trump spoke of the “unbreakable bond” between the United States and Israel, and promised to “always stand with Israel,” praising the nation as “a testament to the unbreakable spirit of the Jewish people.”
The speech, while ambitious, lacked clear policy guidelines. Trump stated he was “personally committed to helping Israelis and Palestinians achieve a peace agreement,” and that he believes “the Palestinians are ready to reach for peace.” Despite prior rhetoric and recent statements by National Security Advisor, H.R. McMaster, President Trump offered no substantive policy statements to deliver on his promise to revive Arab-Israeli peace talks.
Andrew Leber, Ph.D. candidate at Harvard, wrote: “The idea that Trump is willing and able to pull out all the stops in pursuit of ‘the ultimate deal’ between Israelis and Palestinians is now a pipe dream—if it was ever anything but. Some understandably hold the view Trump—seemingly unbeholden to anyone or anything—is able to pressure the Israelis in a way no calculating, vote-counting American politician would previously dare. That theory has fared poorly when applied to U.S. domestic politics, though.”
Tareq Baconi, a policy adviser for Al-Shabaka, The Palestinian Policy Network, stated, “This visit has been quite high on performance and symbolism and quite low on substance.” He added, “We are not talking about any of the substantive issues that would lead us towards a peace deal, not talking about Palestinian sovereignty, statehood, an end of the settlements or an end of the blockade [on Gaza].”
President Trump then flew from Tel Aviv to Italy, where he continued the Vatican portion of his first diplomatic tour.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 23, 2017
A source that wishes to remain anonymous told Lima Charlie News that Donald Trump planned to offer Israel a behemoth arms deal. The offer was to take place behind closed doors, and would likely upset Saudi Arabia and neighboring Jordan. It is unclear at this time whether the offer occurred and Israel’s response if it did occur.
If true, this could signal that President Trump will continue to dole out deals, like candy, to strengthen America’s ties to the traditional, conservative power structure in the Middle East, during a turbulent time—even by local standards.
Overall, the visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories went better than what many critics expected.
Thank you for unrelenting support and a friendship that comes from the heart to the Jewish people & Jewish state.
Thank you, President Trump pic.twitter.com/3imSWM5Xo6
— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) May 23, 2017
J. David Thompson, Lima Charlie News (reporting from Tel Aviv)
J David Thompson (US Army) is a Juris Doctor candidate at Washington & Lee University School of Law focusing on International Human Rights Law. He is a Veterans in Global Leadership Fellow, and brings experience on human rights, international relations, strengthening civil society, refugee issues, interagency collaboration, and countering violent extremism. Prior to Washington & Lee, he served in the US Army as a Military Police officer and Special Operations Civil Affairs with multiple deployments to Afghanistan and one to Jordan—receiving a Bronze Star amongst other decorations. In Jordan, David worked at the US Embassy in countering violent extremism, strengthening civil society, and refugee response with other United States Government organizations, the United Nations, and various non-governmental organizations.
Follow David on Twitter @JDThompsonLC
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