News Analysis: Outcome of Trump's Middle East trip remains a mystery

Source: Xinhua| 2017-05-24 19:39:24|Editor: ying
Video PlayerClose

by Keren Setton

JERUSALEM, May 24 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Donald Trump ended a short visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories on Tuesday, leaving several question unanswered regarding American policy in the region.

The issues discussed included the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Iranian nuclear deal as well as the Syrian war.

However, the outcome of talks between Trump and both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas remains a mystery.

Trump was warmly welcomed in both Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Nonetheless, behind the statements and photo-ops, as Air Force 1 left Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport, it was still unclear whether things will actually change on the ground.

In his keynote speech just before his departure, the American leader emphasized his support for Israel, neglecting to mention certain recent prevailing catch phrases.

As for Netanyahu, this comfortable speech guaranteed his political stability.

There was no demand from Israel to facilitate the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and no mention of curtailing settlement construction.

If the head of the Israeli coalition government will not be forced to take painstaking measures to resume negotiations with the Palestinians, he guaranteed his government's longevity.

On the other hand, Trump's campaign promises made prior to his election also vanished.

There was no mention of the highly controversial pledge to move the American embassy to Jerusalem.

In fact, no explicit recognition was mentioned of Israel's sovereignty over both sides of the city - an Israeli desire not shared by the majority of the international community.

Dr. Ronen Zeidel, a Middle Eastern affairs expert from the University of Haifa, says Israelis continuously make mistakes.

"Israelis do not understand that an election candidate is not a president - it is not the same person even if he has the same name."

In the immediate aftermath of the speech, right-wing members of Netanyahu's government chose to ignore Trump's Jerusalem omission and focused instead on his blind spot regarding the two-state solution.

Naftali Bennett, Netanyahu's senior coalition partner, leads the Jewish Home party.

While shaking Trump's hands at the welcome ceremony, the right-wing education minister reportedly asked the U.S. president to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's undivided capital.

"If Trump was serious, it is only a matter of time before Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu clashes with his coalition partner, Bennett," said Yaki Dayan, a former Israeli consul general in Los Angeles.

Hours after landing in Israel, Trump made a historic visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem's old city.

Israel's control over that part of the city has not been internationally recognized since it was captured by Israel during the 1967 war.

Trump's visit to the old city, donning the traditional Jewish skullcap, resting his hand on the wall in prayer, can be interpreted by some as a de-facto recognition of Israeli sovereignty.

It was the first time for a sitting U.S. President to visit the site. And yet, Palestinians consider East Jerusalem as their future state's capital city.

Ambassador Ron Prosor, Israel's former envoy to the United Nations (UN) today heads the Abba Eban institute of International Diplomacy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.

He also attaches great importance to Trump's Western Wall visit.

"Symbolism is important, (but) it goes beyond symbolism. It shows the bond. It sends the message that there is no gap between Israel and the United States," says Prosor.

The morning following Trump's departure, several Arab media reports stated that he was expected to announce a new peace plan involving separate deals on core issues.

There have been no official confirmations of this report as yet.

In reality, Israeli channel 10 began their morning newscast by saying "Israel still does not understand what will be the American administration's next step."

"Netanyahu has no interest in shaking things up. Israel has never been in a better geopolitical position," says Dr. Zeidel, adding that the odds are slim for renewing the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Zeidel thinks this is where the interests of both the Israeli and American leaders converge.

Trump "will not do anything. He will not put too much pressure; he will not intervene. His real interests are elsewhere."

Ahead of the visit, the Israeli cabinet approved a series of confidence-building measures towards Palestinians intending to pacify the Trump administration.

The package included economic steps aiming to improve Palestinian lives of West Bank and Gaza Strip residents.

"Aside from this, Netanyahu will not be required to take further steps in the short term," believes Dayan.

Several members of Netanyahu's government believe that Israel currently has received the green light to increase settlement construction.

While international law considers Israeli West Bank settlements illegal, the issue seems to have been suspended during the visit, whereas it held center stage in the past.

Freezing settlement construction was a Palestinian precondition to resuming negotiations with Israelis.

This is an issue on which both administrations may clash in the future, but for now it seems a honeymoon period exists between the two.

Netanyahu will have a difficult time disregarding Trump as he did his predecessor U.S. President Barack Obama.

The positive relationship between the two may eventually harm Netanyahu's political survival.

"Israel has to secure its borders and ensure that Jerusalem remains its eternal capital," says Ambassador Prosor.

This may ultimately lead to a faceoff between the White House and Netanyahu.

And yet, the main obstacles toward peace between Israelis and Palestinians still exist.

The change is perhaps in Trump's new attitude, his lack of attention to detail but enthusiasm to strike a deal.

For now, however, several questions remain unanswered.