The four men decided to go to the enemy camp, where they were surprised to find no one there—the Aramaic army had fled to the east at night, beyond the Jordan River. They ate and looted the tents, and then suddenly remembered that no one in the besieged city knew what had happened. If they kept the secret to themselves, they would be punished. “This day is a day of good tidings,” they said before going back to save the city.
These verses were the subject of Hebrew poetess Rachel’s poem "Yom Besora" ("A Day of Good Tidings"), a wonderful and unrealistic poem, an anthem of purism. I would rather die in a siege than be saved by lepers, she wrote: “I do not want to receive news of redemption from the mouth of a leper.” Purism is a poets’ privilege. In determining a state’s fate, purism is a recipe for paralysis. Who am I referring to right now? US President Donald Trump.
Trump will arrive in Israel in two weeks for a one-day visit. He will come here from Saudi Arabia, the country that former US President Barack Obama despised and that Trump is now embracing enthusiastically. The decision to start with Saudi Arabia and Israel is aimed at showing, first and foremost, that he is the opposite of Obama. This is what guided him on the first 100 days of his presidency—to prove that he is Obama’s rival.
He is ignorant, superficial, a fabricator and keeps zigzagging. All the accusations hurled at him contain more than a grain of truth. But after 100 years, in which serious people have tried to end the Israeli-Arab conflict and failed, giving a non-serious president a chance likely won’t hurt us. Former Prime Minister Golda Meir, who was a serious person, mocked Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, saying: “They don’t deserve a Nobel Prize; they deserve an Oscar.” Nobel or Oscar, our peace with Egypt has lasted for 40 years.
One of the characteristics of the conflict is the parties’ addiction to details. They can fight for years over the location of a joint industrial zone or over fishing rights. These fights sometimes stem from real concern about the future, and sometimes from tactical or propaganda considerations. In recent years, delving into the details has been a sort of distraction. Neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas believe in an agreement. The purpose of the small shoe mines they are scattering on the ground is to spare them the need to make real decisions. Abbas and Netanyahu are much less different than their followers will admit.
Former prime minister and defense minister Ehud Barak calls this technique “the Molho mines,” after Netanyahu’s emissary, attorney Isaac Molho, whose job is to invent the preconditions that would thwart negotiations in advance. The classic example is the salaries transferred by the Palestinian Authority to prisoners’ families, including families of arch-murderers. There is no way to morally justify this custom, but there is no way to cancel it either if Abbas wishes to live. Netanyahu just wants to damage Abbas’ reputation.
Former US Presidents George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Obama believed that conflicts should be resolved through negotiations. They are serious people. During their terms, they put quite a lot of effort—themselves or through envoys—in advancing the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, one mine after another, one barrier after another. None of them arrived at the Promised Land to terminate the conflict. In their memoirs, they attributed the failure to leaders’ rejectionism or to changes of circumstances. They all shared one platform: The conflict is solvable; the solution is known—two states, the 1967 borders with slight amendments. The way to reach the solution is through negotiations.
Trump is different. He doesn’t care about the details. In this sense, he presents a challenge to Netanyahu and Abbas. He strives to reach a deal before anything else, and then send the lawyers to finalize the details. That’s how he bought and sold hotels. He sees no difference between one deal and another. If both parties say they want a deal, let them reach a deal and give him credit for it. Otherwise, they will be presented in his tweets as complete liars.
I find it hard to believe that Trump will bring about a conflict-ending agreement. But if he assumes the role of the child who cries out that “the emperor has no clothes,” that would be good enough. Give him a chance.