Download a pdf
28 May, 2017 by Michael Kuttner
First published in jWire
Jerusalem, David's Capital, has seen many spectacles in its three thousand years history.
Not since the visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon however have we witnessed such an outpouring of flattery.
In order to sift fiction from fact we need to focus first of all on the display of Arabian pomp and the sound and light show enacted in Riyadh. If the intention was to dazzle President Trump with over the top opulence and hyperventilated back slapping this succeeded beyond any wildest expectations. There is no doubt that the Saudis were thrilled to have been chosen as the opening stars of Trump's first overseas tour. The fact that it encompassed billions of dollars in arms deals no doubt provided the icing on the cake.
This trip also provided a unique opportunity for the Kingdom to assert a leading role as the pivotal centre for the campaign against terror and in this they acted with flawless perfection. I have lost track of how many times the US President described the Saudi Monarch as a “wise man” and a leading player in the fight against extremism. Overlooked and left unsaid was the stark fact that the type of Islam sanctioned in Saudi Arabia is extreme, fundamentalist and intolerant of non Islamic religions. Their very articulate foreign minister who speaks flawless English deftly deflected awkward media questions about Israel, repeating the false assertion that once Israel accepts the Saudi backed “peace” plan all current terrorist problems in the world will magically disappear. Naturally nobody challenged him as to the suicide provisions of this plan which if adopted in its current form would lead to Israel's speedy demise.
The siren songs of the Saudi love fest inevitably fell on receptive ears amongst the officials of the US State Department and all those who view Israel as the main stumbling block to tranquility in the region. For someone who sees making deals as the way forward there is no doubt that the Riyadh spectacular of Hollywood proportions was a great success. It was a triumph made for television. Whether the oratory actually leads to tachlis (meaningful action) is anyone's guess. To give credit where it is due, the President's speech to the assembled Islamic leaders pulled no punches. In direct contrast to the Obama Administration he demanded that Islamist terrorism be combated and condemned those who finance, sponsor and glorify it.
President Trump's arrival in Israel vividly highlighted not only several firsts but also stark contrasts.
Never has a US President visited Israel several months after his inauguration and never before has a flight from Saudi Arabia arrived directly in Tel Aviv. If, as trumpeted, a new era was indeed dawning, all flights between Israel and Hong Kong would be able to overfly Saudi Arabia instead of having to take a far more circuitous route. Unfortunately like so many other rampant delusions this reality is beyond fulfillment for the foreseeable future.
The biggest contrasts were between the rigid pomp and protocol of an entirely male dominated feudal country and the informal, laid back gender friendly welcoming line up in the Middle East's only true democracy. Other contrasts abounded. The First Lady accompanied by the PM's wife visited children being treated at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. Here were children from all ethnic backgrounds, Moslems, Jews and Christians receiving the best medical care, doctors, nurses and social workers likewise from the same ethnicities working together in harmony to bring healing. In other words a shining example of how Israel is a showcase of liberal humanitarian values in action.
Unlike Riyadh, Israel's Capital of Jerusalem remains unrecognized by the international community which instead prefers to pretend that the Jewish State is somehow illegally occupying a city with which Jews have three thousand years of connection. It was amazing to see at first hand how this fact of history impacted the President, State Department officials and of course the world media.
On the plane heading to Israel from Saudi Arabia, the US Secretary of State informed reporters that they were now on their way to “Tel Aviv, the home of Judaism.” Whether this faux pas was deliberate or accidental it nevertheless highlights the endemic ignorance and antipathy which continues to pervade the corridors of power. Likewise during their brief stay in Israel although the White House feed showed events taking place in Jerusalem, Israel, those from the State Department seemed bereft of city and country.
The two most powerful images beamed worldwide showed the President's visit to Yad Vashem and to the Kotel (Western Wall). Trump performed flawlessly and the sight of the President's daughter praying and shedding a tear made a lasting impression on Israelis and even the cynical local media. It could not escape the notice of even the most biased reporter and journalist that Donald Trump's acknowledgement at both places of the historical association of the Jewish People with Jerusalem and Palestine/Israel transcended and negated any ignorant UN resolution.
This was most forcefully reinforced by the President's final speech at the Israel Museum where in a stark contrast to his predecessors he did not lecture us about the “evils” of settlements and he did not repeat the by now worn out mantra of two States for two people. His approach to peace is different and amongst other things includes the demand that funding, sponsoring and facilitating terror has to cease. In clear and unambiguous tones he reinforced his previous declarations of admiration and solidarity with us and our achievements as well as pledging future support. His central theme of combating terror resonated loudly. Being the target of terror and witnessing yet again its evil repercussions in Manchester, most Israelis appreciate the fact that for the first time in eight years there is a leader willing to call it what it really is. Gone for now at least are past feeble attempts to excuse and rationalize its motivations and origins.
The dead hands of the State Department were however clearly visible. While promises had been made by candidate Trump to shift the US Embassy and recognize Jerusalem as the Capital this has not yet eventuated. The reason is simple. Saudi Arabia, Jordan and of course the Palestinian Arab leadership have all warned of dire consequences should this logical step take place. These bully tactics have worked every time and thus we are still waiting for Trump to do what Harry Truman did in 1948 when he decided to recognize the newly declared State of Israel in the face of opposition from his foreign policy advisers. Truman stated that he would do what was morally right. It's about time the same courage was shown in recognizing Jerusalem's status.
The Saudi King has managed to convince Trump that he will be fighting Islamic terror. The Jordanian Monarch contends that once Israel surrenders to the PA's demands, universal peace will descend. Abbas apparently has also managed to convey the impression that he is a warrior against terror and waiting in the wings to make peace with Israel. Unfortunately nobody has pointed out that on at least twelve previous occasions (1920, 1922, 1937, 1947, 1948, 1967,1978, 2000, 2005, 2008, 2009 and 2014) Abbas and his predecessors spurned all such attempts and instead launched murderous wars and terror against us.
All those who think that times have changed need a reality check.
As noted by PMW:
Abbas to Trump in Bethlehem:
“... two-state solution along the borders of 1967, the state of Palestine with its capital as East Jerusalem living alongside Israel in peace and security.”
“Everyone knows our goal is to liberate all of the land of Palestine”
The general coordinator of the PLO's National Committee for Commemorating Nakba Day stated in a speech that: “We will not relinquish one grain of sand from Jaffa, Haifa, Lod or Ramle” &mdsh; all of which are Israeli cities.
As the Trump cavalcade has left and Jerusalem’s traffic gridlock untangles we celebrate 50 years of Jerusalem’s liberation from illegal Jordanian occupation.
Once again the city is the beating heart of a vibrant Jewish State. We are here to stay.
Michael Kuttner is a Jewish New Zealander who for many years was actively involved with various communal organisations connected to Judaism and Israel. He now lives in Israel where he is J-Wire's correspondent.