Our Thoughts on President Trump’s Upcoming Mideast Visit

Jeremy Ben-Ami Image
Jeremy Ben-Ami
on May 18, 2017

As President Trump prepares to take his first official trip to Israel and the Middle East, he and his administration face increasing turmoil, scrutiny and difficult questions about their actions, principles and competence.

In the midst of last year’s campaign, J Street questioned Donald Trump’s fitness for the office of the presidency, and every day it becomes clearer that our concerns were justified.

Yet, amid this nearly unprecedented situation for the United States, this administration is met with unique opportunities. Evolving regional dynamics open the prospect for a more comprehensive and regional approach to resolving Israel’s conflicts with its neighbors.

To our mind, such an approach has a chance of transforming the status quo in the Middle East, though the administration’s ability to take advantage of this opportunity remains deeply in question.

President Trump and his administration should use this trip to demonstrate that they appreciate, as both Democrats and Republicans have for decades, that the formula of two states for two peoples is the only way to resolve this conflict. If the Trump administration does follow a serious and pragmatic course that pushes both sides to take proactive steps and make compromises toward a two-state peace agreement, J Street would support such an effort. It would also find broad support among Israelis and Palestinians, American Jews and virtually the entire international community.

This administration has taken some positive early steps on this issue. In multiple meetings and conversations with Israeli and Palestinian leaders and officials, the president and his advisers and envoys have stated their intention to help facilitate a meaningful and innovative peace process that would engage other potential partners and allies in the region. And they have prudently refrained from moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, as many on the American and Israeli right have urged them to do.

Yet there has also been an alarming lack of clarity about what the administration’s intentions and policies truly are. The president himself has failed to clearly support the two-state solution, retreating from decades of bipartisan policy consensus. At times, members of the administration have issued contradictory statements that leave the world confused. Just this week, as National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster confirmed the longstanding US policy of not recognizing Israeli or Palestinian sovereignty in Jerusalem, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley contradicted him, saying that the US should move its embassy to Jerusalem and that the Western Wall is part of Israel.

If the administration is serious about trying to seize the very real opportunities for progress in the Middle East, it must use this presidential visit to bring an end to these contradictions and to clarify its policies. J Street and concerned supporters of Israel’s future as a secure, democratic homeland for the Jewish people will be watching closely.

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