When it was announced that Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was coming to Washington on February 15, many of us may have imagined Donald Trump carrying Bibi around on his shoulders at a big public rally where a U.N. flag would be burned, before the two leaders settled down to plan military strikes against Iran.
But surprise, surprise: A “senior administration official” in Washington went to the trouble of telling the Jerusalem Post that Trump didn’t want any “unilateral actions that could undermine our ability to make progress, including settlement announcements.” This was a clear reference to settlement announcements the Netanyahu government in fact has made since Trump took office.
Even more surprisingly: “For the first time, the administration confirmed that Trump is committed to a comprehensive two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict negotiated between the parties.” Yes, Trump has on occasion referred to a two-state deal between the Israelis and Palestinians as “the ultimate deal” that he would relish making, with his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as his diplomatic wing man. But Israelis and Americans alike mostly concluded Trump was about as committed to a two-state solution as Netanyahu — which is to say not really at all — given Team Trump’s reaction to the Obama administration’s scolding of Israel in connection with its decision not to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning settlement activity. The early appointment of hard-line settlements advocate David Friedman as the new U.S. ambassador to Israel made that impression even more natural.
So what’s up, now? As is often the case with this president, it’s hard to say. Perhaps Trump just doesn’t want Bibi upstaging him before they’ve met, or publicly compromising any options. Maybe all his thundering about his unshakable commitment to Israel-right-or-wrong was just anti-Obama agitprop that he’s casting aside now that he’s in office. Who knows: could be Vladimir Putin in that famous phone call this week cooled Trump’s jets on this particular front.
But it appears Netanyahu is going to have to do more prep for his trip to Washington than he might have originally thought necessary. Nobody can take Donald Trump for granted right now.