By the Jewish Ledger Editorial Board
The first 100 days is not a benchmark for a presidency, nor should it be a moment for handing out grades. It’s a honeymoon – the brief period when the press is least hostile, when the other branches of government are most malleable to a new chief executive, when new appointees take their place, and the new president seems most in sync with a willing citizenry.
Make no mistake, had the 2016 election gone the other way we’d in all likelihood be enmeshed in a scandal-ridden Clinton White House. A frustrated Republican Congress would still be investigating Benghazi and clintonmail.com. A willing media would breathlessly report drip-drip innuendos about foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation, and questions of just what role the First Laddy and Chelsea Clinton would be playing in the new administration.
So instead we have the drip-drip of Russiagate, the nepotism of Jared and Ivanka, the louche likes of Steve Bannon and “Dr.” Sebastian Gorka in the West Wing. We have a National Security Advisor – the former general who led chants of “Lock her up! Lock her up!” – gone in 23 days, likely heading to federal prison. We have a president who, on campaign promise after campaign promise, will turn on a politically expedient dime. President Trump is not a flip-flopper – on China, on the Mexican-financed border wall, on NAFTA, on NATO, on the Iran deal, on healthcare – because there is no flip to flop. The coastal elites are gob-smacked by the whiplash, and fly-over country seems delighted.
Regardless, America is headed for a world of hurt. But as for American Jews and the State of Israel, who knows?
On the one hand, the recurring bomb threats of JCCs around the country these past 100 days turns out to have been the mad plotting of an Israeli-American teenager. On the other, cemetery desecrations and swastikas on buildings are not the work of a hacker 8,000 miles away.
The Jewish state has been freed of the open animosity of the Obama White House for a far friendlier ally. It does not have to deal with a president who might well have assigned her husband – who had admired assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and had negotiated face-to-face with Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak – to supervise a possible resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Instead there is an irascible, mood-swinging wheeler-dealer who first denies the uniqueness of the Holocaust and later affirms it, who first signals he likes Israeli settlements and then criticizes them, who first promises to move the American embassy to Jerusalem and then abandons his commitment. Instead of a seasoned ex-secretary of state and her husband who actually oversaw a half-successful negotiation, there’s a former bankruptcy lawyer and a 36-year-old Manhattan real estate tycoon for whom Israel-Palestine is but one of a dozen major responsibilities.
This week Trump welcomes the aging autocrat of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, to the White House. Meanwhile, it is now reported that the president has added Israel to the itinerary of his first overseas travel since becoming president. The visit promises to confound the tiny alt-right component of Trump’s Coalition of the Angry. What else it will do is hard to say.
The most substantive policy pronouncement of the new president on the future of Israel-Palestine came during Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to Washington in February: “I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like…If Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like best.”
After decades of American brain-freeze when it comes to Israel-Palestine, President Trump is simultaneously projecting a new wheeler-dealer approach, and a profound indifference to the outlines of any “deal,” as long as there is someday a deal to be had. Back in February 2016, when Trump was first asked about Israel and Palestine, the candidate offered this chilling proposal: “Let me be sort of the neutral guy.”
As with so many of the inchoate policies and counter-policies offered up by the Trump White House, the president’s indifference towards the deconfliction of the Arab-Israeli conflict confounds the policy wonks and buys a little bit of time until the grim reaper arrives. Now that the Palestinian Authority has stopped payment for Gaza’s sputtering electrification, a humanitarian crisis looms as water purification, hospital power, and basic services unravel. On Israel’s northern border, Iran continues its efforts to supply Hezbollah with rockets, and Israel finds itself obliged to launch attacks inside Syria to stem the resupply.
The Arab-Israeli conflict is a tinderbox. The president, singularly uninformed and uninterested in becoming so, has issued contradictory, irreconcilable statements.
For the moment, the flummoxed leaders of the Middle East are caught like deer in the headlights. From Egyptian President Abdul Fatah al-Sisi to Jordanian King Abdullah II to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, there is a common fear that to contradict the President or to challenge his all-over-the-map musings will quickly propel former allies into the doghouse. This may give the appearance that President Trump is intimidating Middle Eastern leaders into docility, preparing the path to an “incredible deal.”
But pretty soon he is going to have to show a real hand. The honeymoon is over.