Trump Gives Bibi Whatever He Wants

Photo by StateofIsrael | Public Domain

Trump has given Netanyahu everything he ever wanted. Breaking with close allies, he has recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and withdrawn from the Iran deal.  He has continued deployment of U.S. troops in Syria, having once on impulse announced their withdrawal; ostensibly there to fight ISIL they are really intended to undermine the anti-Israeli regime. He has strengthened ties with Saudi Arabia, now a de facto ally of Israel against Iran. He has withheld criticism of the relentlessly expanding Jewish settlements on the occupied West Bank and praised Bibi to the skies. He’s appointed his Jewish son-in-law, who’s been personally close to Netanyahu since boyhood, as his special envoy to negotiate a solution to the Israel/Palestine problem. For the Israeli prime minister, Trump is manna from heaven.

A chief irony of the Trump presidency is his retention of support from the Christian evangelical community, despite Stormy Daniels and all. Trump needs these people, who believe that the Creator of the Universe chose the offspring of Abraham as his Chosen People, bestowed on them the land of Israel in perpetuity. He promised them he’d move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, where they expect Jesus to appear any day now. He had to fulfill his campaign promise rather than heed the counsel of other world leaders. For Netanyahu that was the obvious right thing. He showed Merkel and Macron and May and Erdogan that he’s Netanyahu’s, special pal. And that he’s willing to sic his nutcake UN ambassador Nikki Haley on the world, damning it for challenging the U.S.’s right to put its embassy in Israel wherever the hell it wants and threatening revenge for countries that voted to oppose the U.S.’s provocative move.

Netanyahu rejoices—-in being joined in isolation by the U.S. Israel will always be condemned by the world for its treatment of the Palestinians. Its Zionist leaders will always feel isolated, victimized by the world’s refusal to concede the propriety of the Nakba of 1948. Now the Israelis are even more firmly wedded to U.S. imperialism. The ideological bond—already strong, constantly reiterated in congressional resolutions in embarrassing language pledging eternal love between the American and Israeli peoples due to supposed common values and such—was strengthened by the Jerusalem move.

Jerusalem is Not the Eternal Capital of the Jewish People

But the very acceptance of the premise “Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people” is wrong. It is historically false. Jerusalem was the center of a Judean kingdom for maybe a thousand years. But decades after the time of Christ it ceased to be so. It was not the Jewish capital thereafter for two thousand years. It was a glorious Roman pagan city, then a Christian city, then a mostly Muslim city although throughout the medieval period there was a Jewish minority community numbering in the hundreds or low thousands. Only by the 1880s did the Jewish exceed the Muslim population. The idea of Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal capital is a poetic and religious concept. It is not historical reality.

George W. Bush (who for some reason is being promoted by MSNBC as a proponent of press freedom) was once asked by Bob Woodward “how is history likely to judge your Iraq war?”  Bush replied: “History, we don’t know. We’ll all be dead.”

Bush unlike Trump has a BA in History from Yale. His C-minus GPA suggests he was not a very good historian. Trump is of course much worse. His decisions reflect no knowledge of or interest in history. The past is past, for Trump; the point is the future, to be steered by him, the only one who can fix things. But he needs strong partners. Like Netanyahu, who cited biblical fiction from a congressional podium in March 2015 in an attempt to sabotage the Iran deal.

(Specifically, he cited the Book of Esther–surely a fanciful novelette, set in Persia in the time of Xerxes—in which evil Persians—Iranians—plot to kill all the Judeans in exile in Babylon but are defeated by the brilliant Jewish woman who as Xerxes’ queen turns the tables on them. Pure fiction, like the horrid Samson tale that Netanyahu likes to cite as though it had any basis in reality.)

Trump’s Middle East Historical Knowledge

Trump famously has no interest in human rights questions and enjoys the company of powerful, ruthless men. He is not the type to contemplate a time line, consider how one event led to another, how one state was formed at a people’s expense, how the suffering is ongoing, for readily explainable reasons. In addressing international problems he wants to bludgeon on through, make some sort of deal, announce it with smirking enthusiasm, remaking the world through sheer force of personality.

He knows more than all of his generals. His IQ exceeds that of (what was his name?) former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. His daughter Ivanka is also brilliant genetically and her husband Jared is the best man to ever make peace in the Middle East.

Now that Korea’s solved, the Palestinian problem can be solved by making the Palestinians (under meek and mild leadership in Ramallah, and terrorist leadership in Gaza) accept a deal suitable to that admirable strongman, Netanyahu, giving them a web of bantustans (or reservations, or concentration camps) they can call with Washington’s blessings a “state,” while renouncing the right of the over 700,000 Palestinian Arabs displaced in the Zionist terror campaign of 1948 to return home in accordance with United Nations resolutions.

It is a very, very simple issue. It is not historically controversial. We know what happened. Highly motivated, well-organized European Zionist Jews, following a United Nations decision to endorse a particular Palestine partition plan opposed by much of the world, proclaimed the state of Israel and attacked the Palestinians with the intention of causing mass flight. They succeeded and the world suffers the consequences to this day.

Again, Trump knows nothing of history. Such Israeli history as he knows is likely derived from Bibi. Here’s what the Israeli PM mindful of Trump’s insatiable vanity likely says:

Mr. President, the Bible tells us how God gave Israel to my people, the Jews. It has always been ours, Donald, always. You know that. We were driven out of the Promised Land (by God’s will) in the Diaspora. It was terrible. My people, all over the world, in exile, suffered so many persecutions. Just because we were Jews. Persecuted by Christians and Muslims alike. Almost annihilated in the Holocaust. But the prophecy was always there. We would return. God said we would and we did. We fulfilled the prophecy which your people, some of them, think will lead to Jesus’s return. Please continue to listen to their voices, Mr. President. We love you very much in Israel and will name many more streets after you. maybe our next West Bank settlement.

You understand better than anyone ever has. God bless you, Mr. President.

Scripture affords many examples of wise men favored in the sight of the Lord, hounded by unworthy critics who received their due in time. You Mr. President succeeded a leader who was frankly weak on terrorism and on Israel’s security. You courageously reversed your predecessor’s disastrous mistake on the Iran appeasement. The Jewish people everywhere appreciate your wisdom, President Trump.

Bibi in Jared’s Bed

So what’s next? The president in his insight appointed his son-in-law Jared Kushner Senior as Assistant to the President and Senior Advisor, it being understood that “if he can’t bring peace to the Middle East, nobody can.” A daunting task for a 37-year-old Orthodox Jew who, at the NYT put it in February 2017, “has no experience in government or international affairs. His up-close exposure to the Arab world amounts to little more than trips to a handful of Persian Gulf countries and a star-studded jaunt to Jordan. Though Mr. Kushner has visited Israel since childhood, and more recently to do business, he is little known there.”

Kushner’s His Middle East experience reportedly includes donating to illegal West Bank settlement construction; shady business dealings in Israel, and with Saudi and UAE partners; soliciting an investment from the Qatari finance minister in April 2017 in his troubled 666 Fifth Ave. property, and backing the Saudi-UAE blockade of Qatar after his bid was rejected; and letting Netanyahu sleep in his bed when he was 17.

You didn’t know about that last part? Well, it’s true. In 1998 Netanyahu, a family friend, visited the Kushners in their New Jersey home and stayed the night. Jared slept in the basement. Bibi may have warned young Jared that the Iranians were six months away from having a nuclear bomb; he was charging even then that Iran had an immediately threatening nuclear program. Bibi has been Chicken Little on Iran from the early nineties.

Later that year Jared joined thousands of teenagers led by Netanyahu, waving Israeli flags, through the ruins of an Auschwitz-Birkenau crematory before flying on from Poland to Israel. The appointment of Jared to his special (and very vague) position and handing him the Middle East peace portfolio (while the State Department remains surprisingly understaffed, as though no one really cares about competence and expertise, historical and linguistic knowledge, etc.) is more manna from heaven from Trump.

Not that it’s immediately relevant, but this introduction to Netanyahu was seven years before Jared’s dad Charles, a real estate developer, was fined and sentenced to federal prison for illegal campaign contributions, witness tampering, and tax evasion. (To give you a sense of his character, he tried to get a prostitute to have sex with his brother-in-law so he could send the tape to his sister. The case was aggressively pursued by U.S. Attorney Chris Christie and Charles served 14 months.) It must have been hard on 24-year-old Jared, then in grad school at Harvard and investing in local properties. As an undergrad in 2000, he’d bought seven residential buildings in Somerville for $ 9 million. The Boston Globe reports he was not the most responsible landlord.

The Peace Plan

What is Jared’s Middle East plan? Its contours are readily apparent. Unite Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other intensely anti-Iranian Arab states, trading the prospect of coordinated action against Iran (to effect regime change) for Israeli acceptance of the Arab Peace Initiative  produced by the Arab League summit in 2002. The latter exchanges normalized relations between Israel and the Arab League nations for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories, a just settlement of the refugee problem, and the establishment of a Palestinian state. It is simple proposal, an appeal to Israel to obey numerous UN resolutions that indeed declare the occupation of Palestinian land since 1967 illegal and to trade land for peace.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called it a “non-starter.” But it was a significant overture from Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, later king from 2005 to 2015. As protector of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, the Saudi monarch occupies special prestige in the Arab and Islamic worlds. Riyadh had always made its contempt for the Jewish state plain. But now it, as perhaps the Arab world’s most conservative state, spearheading a movement to recognize Israel, indeed to do so as a bloc of 22 Arab nations.

The current all-powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (known to friends as MbS) has recently stated that Israelis have “a right to their own land,” and that Palestinians must make peace “or shut up.”  A U.S. State Department source says it’s an open secret that closed door meetings have been going on between Israel and Saudi Arabia for five years. Jared surely wants to encourage them, as does his old pal Netanyahu.

The U.S., the Saudis and other Gulf State agents, and the Israelis strategizing how to topple the mullahs without upsetting the Iraqis (whose new government joins Sadrist nationalists with a party closely aligned with Iran, and whose military relies on Iranian-back Shiite militiamen); the Russians who are actively helping Iran augment its defenses; the Chinese who want to bring Iran into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and massively expand trade; the Indians who have a strong friendly relationship with a key oil supplier; the Turks who’ve had enough of U.S. meddling in their part of the world; the German, French and yes even the British who are still shocked by the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran Deal and want to make their own deals with a country that has the world’s Number 25 GDP. (That means under Belgium but over Thailand, Nigeria, Venezuela, Austria, Norway, Israel, Egypt, the UAE. Iran is a substantial country with huge investment potential.)

But This is apparently the Jared Project: to work with Uncle Ben and MbS to get Mattis, Pompeo and Bolton to sign on to a strategy to implement the demands Pompeo announced when the U.S. withdrew from the JCPOA, triggering the fall of the regime in the near future. Like Iraq and Libya. An American shout from the rooftop to the world: “We have learned nothing!”

In many quarters Trump would be seen as both savage and ridiculous. Why follow up a positive development in Korea with another imperialist attack on another country that nobody but your solipsistic self and an odd assortment of henchmen will support?

Legal Problems

But before we get that far—to the insane strike being planned—less us observe that both Netanyahu and Jared Kushner are in some bad legal trouble. The Mueller investigation has found, not evidence for collusion between Jared and “the Russians” to get his father-in-law elected so much as repeated efforts to use his position to aggrandize himself—or at least save his sorry overextended ass from bankruptcy. He has acknowledged misstatements and failure to report contacts and file financial information forms. He could go down very quickly, his soft rarely heard voice silenced before he could sit down with some Palestinians.

Netanyahu meanwhile has been accused by three former aides, all of whom have turned state’s witness, of corruption and accepting bribes. He’s accused of providing privileges to Israel’s largest telecommunications company in return for fawning coverage. His wife Sara is under suspicion too. His era may be passing.

Trump sees Netanyahu as a strong, good man. He’s described many people as such before they fell to the wayside. In fact the Israeli leader is weak, and a brute. Jared’s weak too, and scared. The Saudi prince has purged the country’s leadership reducing the authority of its many other princes, while embarking on economic reforms and aggressive foreign policy initiatives; his position might not be that strong.

The Iran strategy based on the Bibi-Jared-MbS bond may fall apart due to mundane corruption charges. Bribery. Influence peddling. Obstruction. Whatever. Would this not be good?

Gary Leupp is Emeritus Professor of History at Tufts University, and is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900 and coeditor of The Tokugawa World (Routledge, 2021). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: