As President Trump tours the Middle East, the eyes of the entire world have turned toward the region and the issues that all of us at J Street care about so deeply.
The president flew directly from Saudi Arabia to Israel on the first direct flight ever between the two countries — a symbol of the potential for Arab-Israeli cooperation that Trump has indicated he hopes to build on this trip and beyond.
On the first leg of his journey, the president emphasized his desire to unite the world in opposition to extremism — and in pursuit of peace. He clearly played to his Saudi hosts with his promises of regional partnership — underlined by a massive arms sale agreement and fierce rhetoric directed at Iran. Referring to Islam, Judaism and Christianity, he stated that, “If these three faiths can join together in cooperation, then peace in this world is possible — including peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”
For any president, let alone one as embattled as Trump, making progress on the conflict would be difficult. While Israeli and Palestinian leaders line up to praise and welcome the president, they are watching to see what steps he will actually take — and how seriously he is committed to a two-state solution.
Before the president even touched down, we’ve seen signs of divisions within the Israeli government over how to treat his peace overtures. In a positive gesture, the Israeli security cabinet voted to approve a series of economic measures designed to help Palestinian economic development and movement in the West Bank — a move that the White House welcomed in a statement.
But while Prime Minister Netanyahu pushed the measures through, his hard-line coalition partners in the cabinet opposed them — as they oppose the two-state solution and virtually any steps toward peace. So while Netanyahu attempts to placate Trump, he is also responding to continuing political pressures from his right-wing base.
We’ve seen evidence of that pressure on the issue of Jerusalem — where President Trump today became the first sitting US president to visit the Western Wall. In the lead-up, the Israeli government attempted to have Prime Minister Netanyahu included in the visit to the Wall. Had the president’s team acceded to the Israelis’ request, that could have represented a major change in US policy. When it comes to this conflict, even seemingly minor questions can have huge consequences.
Clearly, finding a way forward to deal with these issues and address concerns on both sides won’t be easy — but these are the challenges that any serious peacemaker must confront. Going forward, will President Trump publicly back the two-state solution, and show the resolve and seriousness of purpose needed to move both sides forward? Will he ensure that the members of his administration speak with one voice, instead of advancing competing visions of US goals and policy in Jerusalem and beyond?
Speaking on the tarmac after his arrival today, the president said, “We have before us a rare opportunity to bring security and stability and peace to this region and to its people, defeating terrorism and creating a future of harmony, prosperity and peace. But we can only get there working together. There is no other way.”
There can be no doubt: There is major opportunity for the US to help bring together Israelis, Palestinians and Arab nations to transform a destructive status quo and build a better future. Arab nations like Saudi Arabia and the UAE appear poised to offer partial normalization to Israel in exchange for significant steps, like a settlement freeze, that would move in the direction of a two-state solution.
But taking advantage of this historic opportunity will require determined leadership and commitment to speaking hard truths and making tough decisions. If President Trump wants to bring that kind of leadership to the issue, he needs to take steps to demonstrate it.
To help you keep up with all that’s happening, we wanted to share a few helpful pieces and resources: