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Michael Jansen: Walking the tightrope
May 22, 2017
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US President Donald Trump is set to arrive in Israel today after a weekend jamboree in Riyadh where he attended summits with Saudi King Salman, rulers of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and leaders and representatives from 50 Muslim states. During the visit every Trump desire – including steak with tomato catsup – was anticipated, every whim catered for. His Saudi hosts did not expect him to address local dishes such as rice and roasted lamb but he did make a clumsy attempt at joining a sword dance.

Trump is a difficult traveller. He likes to sleep in his own beds in his various flats, hotels or golf clubs and to dine on dishes prepared by staff who know exactly what he desires. As I suspected from his demeanour, he likes well done steak, difficult to produce without being dry and tough. A piece of meat said to be favoured by people who are risk averse although Trump is the riskiest person so far to hold court in the Oval Office of the White House. Most chefs argue steak is tasty only when somewhat rare. He likes McDonald’s Big Macs, chips, and other fast foods although he is at least 20 kilos overweight.

The King David Hotel in West Jerusalem will provide Trump with a bomb-proof, poison gas-proof, bullet proof hotel suite at a cost of $5,700 a night. All the hotel’s 233 rooms will be occupied by Trump staff and security agents. The rest of Trump’s 1,100 member entourage will be accommodated in other upmarket hotels.

Security will be tight with the hotel driveways blocked with buses. Balloons equipped with cameras will guard the presidential rooms from above and robots will prowl the sewers in search of bombs. His food will be tasted before being served. Ten thousand Israeli police will be on duty while he is moving through the streets of the city. Trump and his aides will travel in armour-plated cars. Bomb sniffing dogs will be on duty along routes he takes.

Ahead of his 26-hour visit to Jerusalem, Israeli politicians were confused and nervous, CNN reported. The channel quoted a politician as saying, “No one has any idea what the plan is.” He was set to deliver an address at Masada, a desert fort on a flat-topped mountain in the desert near the Dead Sea where Jewish rebels made a last stand against Roman troops in 73-74 AD. Trump refused to go by cable car to the site and demanded a helicopter which was rejected by the Israeli archaeological authorities as the last time a helicopter landed there the wind from its rotors damaged the ruin. On that occasion the aircraft was carrying a US general.

Trump’s speech was shifted to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Trump is set be the first US president to visit the Wailing Wall, believed by Jews to be the remaining wall of the Jewish Second Temple destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD during the Jewish revolt. The wall lies below the Haram al-Sharif, the vast courtyard containing the Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, sacred to Muslims. White House officials upset the Israelis by stating the wall is located in the West Bank, occupied by Israel in 1967, rather than in Israel which unilaterally annexed East Jerusalem soon after conquering the Palestinian sector of the city.

Trump has said he does not want to be accompanied on Wailing Wall visit by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, indicating that the president recognises the status of East Jerusalem has not been resolved. This was supposed to be accomplished under the 1993 Oslo Accord but did not happen. Someone in the neophyte US administration is trying to prevent Trump from stumbling into political and diplomatic mine fields.

While in the Old City, Trump is also meant to tour the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where, according to tradition, Jesus was crucified and buried.

During his presidential campaign Trump pledged repeatedly to shift the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem but he has backed away from this commitment, arguing that he does not want to harm the presently non-existent Palestinian-Israeli peace process. While in Riyadh, he will have been told by Muslim leaders that this would be a disaster for them and for the region as such a move would elicit a popular backlash against both governments and US interests. Netanyahu apparently has taken this on board and has, at least, temporarily, dropped this explosive issue although he denied doing so when criticised by right-wing members of his government.

The Israelis do not quite know how to handle Trump’s leak to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that Israel had provided the US with intelligence revealing Daesh is seeking to smuggle explosives concealed in laptop computers onto commercial airliners.

Israeli intelligence chiefs have suggested withholding sensitive information to their US comrades.

Palestinian security agents will be involved in his visit to Bethlehem where he is due to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and, perhaps, go to the Church of the Nativity where it is said Jesus was born.

Israeli commentators have suggested Trump may have an easier time with Abbas than with Netanyahu, who is hemmed in by rightist coalition partners and settlers. During the presidential race, Trump stated blithely that he would accept any deal agreed by Palestinians and Israelis, but Trump cannot simply dismiss the “two-state solution,” involving the emergence of a Palestinian state alongside Israel as this is the “solution” supported by the international community. US national security adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster has said Trump would “reaffirm America’s unshakable bond” to Israel, but also would “express his desire for dignity and self-determination for the Palestinians.” US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has also referred to “Palestine,” a term which Israel regards as de facto recognition of a Palestinian state which does not yet exist. This was not what the Israelis, particularly right-wingers, expected of Trump, who during his campaign had characterised himself as their “best friend.” The unpredictable Trump has trumped himself again and could do a flip-flop at any time.
 
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The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East
affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict

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