President Donald Trump, who uses every opportunity to mention how fond he is of the Israeli prime minister, will shower him with compliments and smiles and convey to the world that that is the way to treat the man who Washington wishes to honor.
On Wednesday, however, Trump will present Netanyahu with a warning. He will make it clear to him that the party is over. He finds the unbridled settlement construction deep within the West Bank unacceptable. He sees the settlements as an obstacle to peace. The American embassy will also remain in Tel Aviv for now. This is no longer an act of foot-dragging by the president; it’s a decision.
Trump has been in office for less than a month, and he is already beginning to understand the limitations of power. A big mouth and reckless moves may sound good during a wild and convention-shattering election campaign, but in reality he does not have the ability to change the world completely. Reality hit him in the face when the court thwarted the immigration order he issued against Muslims (although the final word has yet to be said on that issue), and in the Middle Eastern swamp Trump is not the only player. It’s no coincidence that the White House announced that new settlements were an impediment to peace just a few hours after Trump’s meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah, who made it clear to him that expanding the settlement enterprise and moving the US embassy to Jerusalem was like throwing a match into a powder keg.
Trump made a U-turn and ordered his advisors, primarily Jared Kushner, to find a proper deal. The papers placed in front of him, as well as the maps of the region with future borders, point to the direction: At this stage, Trump seeks to adopt parts of the Saudi initiative, which the Arab League approves of, as former President Barack Obama did. He plans to reach a deal under which the large settlement blocs will be annexed to Israel in exchange for alternative land for the Palestinians, just like President George W. Bush suggested before him. Trump is interested in bolstering the Sunni axis versus Shiite Iran, to stop the Islamic Republic from turning into a leading regional power.
The Israeli Right opened the champagne bottles too early following Trump’s election. A president comes and a president goes, and in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict there is nothing new under the sun and no magical solution. Netanyahu will be received in Washington with great honor, with a lot of noise and pleasantries. But even in the White House he will find himself under warning. Unless he surprises himself too, and arrives with a real plan.