US President Donald Trump will visit Israel on May 22 as part of his “Three Big Religions Tour.” America’s showman-in-chief is launching presidential theme-travel now. Before Brussels and Sicily, he will visit Saudi Arabia, Israel, Bethlehem and the Vatican, contrasting peaceful religions with militant Islamism. Trump also hopes his deal-making magic will dazzle Israelis and Palestinians. In preparation, security experts are swarming Jerusalem. The King David Hotel is now the King Donald (kidding!). Trump aides are arriving in Israel to plan his itinerary. Here’s my proposal:
Trump should start in Israel’s New York, Tel Aviv, where Zionists transformed sand dunes into a metropolis, spawning a modern Hebrew City. As a real estate mogul, the president will appreciate how Israel’s Trump, the late David Azrieli, developed a neglected neighborhood into a mass real estate project branded with the family name: Azrieli Towers.
Then Trump should make his way via helicopter to Jerusalem, landing near the First Station, another Zionist Cinderella project that turned a dump into a mall and entertainment center. Our Zionist tale continues with the railway station built 120 years ago to revive Jerusalem, and today’s cutting-edge Israel, seen in the JVP Media Quarter and the Our Crowd offices, financing start-ups through crowd funding.
Next is a tour of the Jewish Quarter – passing synagogues the Arabs desecrated while noting the historical redevelopment of the past 50 years. Trump can appreciate the Western Wall’s religious and national significance, highlighting Jews’ unique religious-national identity. Finally, do him a favor: visit the Garden Tomb, where many Protestants believe Jesus’s body is buried. With visits to a Muslim country – which badly needs prodding to be freer – the Jewish state and the Vatican, having this Presbyterian president show Protestants some love might soothe his co-religionists.
Second takeaway: Trump erred by not coming two days later to celebrate the 1967 war’s 50 anniversary. Hailing that triumph unequivocally would emphasize that the war didn’t start the Palestinian problem, but did save Israel from destruction – while reuniting the special city of Jerusalem.
I wish Trump could visit Gaza and contrast Palestinian terrorist sterility with Zionism’s democratic fecundity. He should see the Jewish homes and hothouses Palestinians destroyed when Israel withdrew peacefully in 2005 and the misery Hamas imposes by building rockets and attack tunnels instead of homes, while crushing dissent. I wish he could see the stunning seashore that gives Gaza potential to flourish – if constructive leadership ever displaces nihilistic terrorists.
Third and fourth takeaways: a peace deal shouldn’t create another failed state – and how does a democracy trust despots and terrorist organizations addicted to destruction? Since Trump plans to visit Bethlehem, let him overshoot that city, then double back, to see the rebuilt Jewish community of Kfar Etzion. The Zionist pioneering of the 1920s and 1930s created that too – until the Jordanian massacre in May, 1948. Returning in 1967 wasn’t conquest or occupation but liberation, especially for the evacuated children mourning their murdered parents.
Fifth takeaway: not all “settlements” are alike. Some, like Kfar Etzion, have deep Jewish roots, border Israel and can remain Jewish without harming Palestinian national aspirations. In fact, most settlements can be incorporated into Israel. He – and we – should never speak of “the” settlements, instead distinguishing between reunited Jerusalem, restored communities, security hamlets, suburban neighborhoods and controversial outposts.
DRIVING SOUTH, note the roads essentially creating two states de facto – making it easy to provide the autonomy, dignity and safety both communities desire without contiguity almost immediately. Red signs bar even the most maximalist Jews from Palestinian areas – proving that exclusively Palestinian areas exist (with some flourishing).
Then, let him enter Hebron. There, Trump will discover that, like health care, “it’s complicated.” At the Cave of the Patriarchs observe the similarity architecturally – and spiritually – to the Western Wall. See the memorials marking the violence Jews suffered there, appreciating that the Israeli army presence keeps any Jews – and visitors – there alive. Simultaneously, seeing Palestinians blocked from their own markets should concern him too. Hebron, the conflict’s Ground Zero, represents the sixth takeaway: someone who can’t feel the Jewish connection there has no soul – but someone who can’t respect Palestinian claims there has no heart – or brain.
Offer Trump Israel’s bottom line: everything’s negotiable – except what isn’t: security and legitimacy. Security entails blocking terrorists slithering through borders and launching missiles by air. Legitimacy means that even if demographic realities result in Israel one day withdrawing from Hebron, Israel must never relinquish its historic rights there – or anywhere else. Choosing not to exercise legitimate rights would show how far Israel will sacrifice for peace.
Such an itinerary could teach President Trump that the “deal” is partially about territory – and requires cartographic creativity. But it’s also about ideology. Until the Palestinians accept a Jewish state, their will to destroy our state trumps their desire to build theirs. Once they start building their state, peace has a chance. Until then, Israel needs reliable allies in the White House – and its own weapons at the ready.