A Good Start in the Middle East

President Donald Trump and Jared Kushner, left, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on May 22. Photo: Israel Bardugo

Jewish Light Editorial

Donald J. Trump’s first overseas trip as president deserves praise not only for its optics, but also for its geopolitical significance and his temperate presentation. Now, the tough work begins to turn a good start into a lasting accomplishment.

During his visits to Saudi Arabia and Israel, Trump and his team managed to gain admiration and praise from 50 Arab heads of state and build upon his already positive relationship with the Jewish State. Trump and Saudi King Salman signed a $110 billion arms deal to bolster the kingdom’s defenses against terrorism and threats from Iran — all with largely positive reaction from Israel.

Among other positive accomplishments of the Trump trip:

• Bringing moderate Arab states into more than a tacit alliance with Israel. The Arab states no longer regard Israel as an existential threat but agree with Israel that the radical Islamist regime in Iran does pose such a threat, even after the re-election of the so-called “moderate” President Hassan Rouhani. Arab leaders have told the Trump administration: Achieve a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians and we will openly recognize Israel and extend the full range of diplomatic range to the Jewish State.

• Trump became the first sitting president of the United States to visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the holiest site in Judaism. He said, convincingly, that he found the visit to the Wall, the only surviving remnant of the Second Temple, to be a profoundly moving experience.

•  In his remarks at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, Trump promised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that under his administration, “Iran will never, ever get nuclear weapons.” The president has wisely kept the Iran nuclear deal in place, but he has served notice on the Tehran regime that the United States will not look the other way if Iran covertly moves toward becoming a nuclear power, and if it continues its sponsorship of terrorism.  

• Trump had a seemingly constructive meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem, in the immediate aftermath of the horrific deadly terrorist bombing at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, which Abbas denounced. Abbas was standing in front of the Palestinian flag not only as president of the Palestinian Authority but also as the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which perfected the use of murderous terrorism as an “instrument of diplomacy.” 

Any denunciation by Abbas of terrorist tactics will ring hollow unless and until he not only firmly renounces violence verbally but stops paying a stipend to families of terrorists and stops teaching Palestinian children to hate Israelis, Jews in general and Americans. Continued support of terrorism will continue to be a roadblock to a two-state solution.

• Trump visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s Memorial Museum to the six million Jews who were murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust, and he reiterated his promise to do all within his power to prevent such an atrocity from happening ever again.  Israeli leaders at nearly every stop praised Trump for his strike against Syria after it used chemical weapons against innocent civilians, sending a powerful message that such actions will not be tolerated.

The acclaim that Trump received during his trip came as revelations continued in Washington over allegations that members of his campaign and his White House team collaborated with Russia to interfere with the U.S. presidential election. The naming of a respected special counsel, Robert Mueller, should place that investigation on a sounder legal footing.

Ideally, the continuing probes will not hamstring the administration to the extent that its efforts to secure peace in the Middle East will be overshadowed by developments at home. And Trump has to make sure that his comments, his policies and his demeanor remain steadfast and don’t shift with daily events. 

He deserves excellent reviews for his first diplomatic trip on foreign soil. The follow-through should match the opening act.