Israelis worry Trump’s changing stands look more and more like Obama’s – McClatchy Washington Bureau
The Israeli love affair with President Donald Trump has soured as promises have gone unfulfilled.
The Israeli public was very excited when Trump took office. They anticipated a fresh start after a fraught relationship with Barack Obama, who many thought was overly sympathetic to the Palestinians.
But reality has set in as all Trumpâs earlier talk â of moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, of not worrying about Jewish settlements in Arab land and of dropping insistence on the pesky two-state solution â appears to have been just that: talk.
âHeâs like any politician,â said Shlamit Lev-ran, 24, an art student at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. âThey say one thing and then after theyâre elected they do another. I see no difference.â
âTrump and Obama, they want the same thing,â said Elie Adler, a 60-year-old shopkeeper in downtown Jerusalem. âThey just serve it up in a different dish.â
Adler says he doesnât think Trump and his deal-maker reputation will prove any more effective than Obama was in bringing a resolution to the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian standoff. For one, western logic simply wonât change the minds of very religious people.
âItâs very simple,â Adler said, before repeating a Hebrew phrase used by politicians who shift their positions: âWhat you see from here, you canât see from there.â
All the trappings of a warm welcome are on display in anticipation of Trumpâs arrival Monday. U.S. flags are flying alongside Israeli ones at Ben-Gurion International Airport, outside Tel Aviv. Posters declaring âJerusalem welcomes Trumpâ hang across the city and are pasted to walls.
Yet there are signs of uncertainty: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered all of his Cabinet ministers to attend the airport welcome for Trump after he learned some planned to skip it, according to Army Radio.
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Thereâs no question that Netanyahu is happier with Trump in office after an openly strained relationship with Obama. The two had significant ideological differences, from how to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict to their respective views of how to prevent Iran from making a nuclear bomb.
Trumpsâ denunciation of Shiite Muslim Iran as well as his tough view of Lebanonâs Hezbollah and the Gaza Stripâs Hamas in his speech Sunday to leaders of Sunni Muslim nations gathered in Saudi Arabia will be warmly received here.
But Trumpâs popularity among Israelis has dropped significantly since he took office. Only 56 percent of Israeli Jews consider Trump to be pro-Israel, a decline from the 79 percent who felt that way before the inauguration, according to a recent Jerusalem Post poll.
Trump is coming in for criticism here for planning to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday, in Bethlehem on the West Bank. It will be Trumpâs second visit with Abbas in three weeks. Notably, Trump dropped the word âauthorityâ from Abbasâ title in his Riyadh speech, calling Abbas simply Palestinian president.
Anger is also building over Trumpâs failure to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. That was a promise frequently made during the presidential campaign. But Trump no longer pledges that, and U.S. officials said the idea has been shelved for now after realization that such a move would deeply offend Palestinians â and Arabs at large â who see East Jerusalem as the future capital of a Palestinian state.
When Netanyahu visited Washington in February, Trump upended long-held U.S. policy by withholding clear support for an independent Palestine, saying he was open to whatever solution Israelis and Palestinians agreed to. But in the months since, with his administration itself upended by the dismissal of his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, American advocacy of a two-state solution appears to be back as policy.
Last week, Trumpâs current national security adviser, Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, said Trump will call for Palestinian self-determination, setting off alarm bells among Israelâs far right who interpreted McMasterâs words as a renewed embrace of the two-state solution.
The Israeli right was already leery, after Trump asked Israel to âhold off on settlements for a bitâ in hopes of finding a peace solution.
âLetâs see if he repeats âself-determinationâ,â said Michael Oren, a U.S.-born former ambassador to the United States who now serves as the deputy minister for diplomacy from the centrist Kulanu party. To capture how those words grate on the Israeli right, Oren called them âthe S-D word.â
Obama paid a price for not visiting Israel early in his presidency; his first visit didnât come until 2013, in his second term, and itâs still a sore point for some, an indication that Obama was always going to have a Palestinian tilt.
Now many Israelis are wondering if Trump is going to tilt that way, too.
âIsraelis have noticed that heâs very interested in the Palestinians, too,â said Philip Gordon, Obamaâs coordinator for the Middle East whoâs now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
For Lev-ranâs friend Shlam Cohen, a 27-year-old history student, Trumpâs evolution isnât so surprising. The transition from candidate to president brings change.
âEventually, reality takes over,â he said.
McClatchy special correspondent Joel Greenberg contributed to this report from Jerusalem.