Trump's tour: problems with Israel

Summary: Trump faces a heavy agenda in Saudi Arabia, Israel and Palestine, made more difficult by numerous unnecessary problems.
As President Trump sets out today on his first foreign trip as president, his agenda in his first stop, Riyadh, is heavy with difficult subjects: rebuilding a relationship which came under strain with President Obama, human rights, wars in Yemen and Syria, Iran. He has reportedly added another with potential for embarrassment or worse, a planned speech on Islam, which he is as qualified to make as King Salman (Governor of Riyadh for forty-eight years) would be to make a speech on the New York real estate market.
His next stop, Israel and Palestine, has an even heavier agenda: he has repeatedly made clear that he sees the Arab/Israel problem as “the ultimate deal”, one which he as a deal-maker is well qualified to tackle. Again in addition to the real difficulties there are numerous others, mainly stemming from the tendency of Trump and his people to leap before they look. Daniel Shapiro, Obama’s ambassador to Israel, comments “We had a president whose nickname was ‘No Drama.’ They, well — enough said.”
The list of unnecessary problems with Israel is farcically long:
Intelligence leak
The first has already developed into a crisis, perhaps a major crisis. This is the reported revelation by Trump to the Russian Foreign Minister of the intelligence behind the US decision in March to ban carrying laptops in the cabin on flights to America by some Middle East airlines. Some commentators immediately suggested that this was more about giving US airlines a competitive advantage than about security. It appears that the intelligence on which it was based came from Israel (although another recent report suggests Jordan – Royal Jordanian Airlines’ advice to passengers is at link.). Trump’s claim that as president he has an absolute right to reveal intelligence ignores the fact that intelligence passed by one country’s service to another’s is normally passed on condition that it should not be revealed to any other party. Israeli intelligence professionals are reportedly incensed, although there may not be much they can do about it. A former Mossad official, Yossi Alpher, writes in the New York Times “Viewed through a Machiavellian prism, American embarrassment over the leak provides Mr. Netanyahu with a little extra leverage in his dealings with Mr. Trump next week. In the wake of Mr. Trump’s recent meeting with the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and meetings with other Arab leaders, there is a strong sense here that Mr. Trump is likely to spring a surprise on Israel involving an effort to restart the peace process. The anxiety for Mr. Netanyahu is that he might find himself under pressure to make concessions — on settlements in the West Bank, for example — that his own Likud Party and its coalition partners would reject.”
Embassy move
Trump repeatedly declared during the campaign his intention of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (as all recent US presidential candidates including Hillary Clinton have promised). Israel of course expects him to deliver, and there will be a test in June: a US law requires that the embassy should move unless the president signs a waiver which has to be renewed every six months. In their recent statements Trump and his team have refused to repeat the commitment, indicating that it is still not decided. The fact that no foreign embassies in Israel are in Jerusalem gives substance to the insistence of all states other than Israel that the territory Israel acquired by force in 1967 including East Jerusalem cannot simply be annexed in advance of a peace settlement.
Western wall
Trump plans to visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem, part of the wall of the Jewish Temple and for Jews their holiest site. He would be the first serving US president to do so. During a planning session Israeli officials asked the Americans whether Netanyahu could accompany him, only to be told “rudely” by US officials that he could not because Jerusalem is not Israeli territory. The White House has said that this does not reflect Trump’s opinion. H.R. McMaster, national security adviser, declined to give an opinion to reporters saying only that the question “sounds like a policy decision.” The US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said (curiously for an ambassador) “I don’t know what the policy of the administration is, but I believe the Western Wall is part of Israel”. Trump has said nothing so far.
Masada
Plans that Trump should make his speech at the mountain fortress of Masada, site of heroic resistance by Jews to the Roman occupation in 74 AD, have reportedly been abandoned because the Israelis insisted that Trump and his party should go to the fortress by cable car like everyone else. The US planners wanted Trump’s helicopter to land at the top, but this was refused because of potential damage to a nationally important monument.
Yad Vashem
Official visitors to Israel customarily go to Yad Vashem, an extensive complex of memorials to the victims of the Holocaust. Trump’s planners have reportedly tried to cut the visit down to 15 minutes, which is likely to cause offence.

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