by James M. Wall
On Wednesday, President Donald Trump approached the waning days of his first month in office with what he hoped would be a significant foreign policy event, his first White House meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
At their joint press conference, the real estate tycoon now occupying this nation’s highest office, became Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson), from the 2005 Coen brothers movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou (see clip above).
In the film, Delmar and his pals, Everett (George Clooney), the dominant figure who evokes military occupier Bibi Netanyahu, and Pete (John Turturro), in the role of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, have escaped from a Mississippi chain gang.
Still linked together by the chains of Occupation, Everett and Pete argue heatedly over which of them should be the Decider of the future.
Ha’aretz writer Ilene Prusher analyzed Wednesday’s Trump-Netanyahu press conference, under this harsh headline: Trump Is Delusional and Ignorant About Israel. His Meeting With Netanyahu Proved It.
Prusher opened her analysis by pointing to what she calls a bizarro moment: “Trump departed from decades of U.S. policy of all administrations, Republican and Democratic, when he said that America was no longer determined to reach a two-state solution to end the conflict”.
Trump’s exact words were: “So I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one.”
The answer drew laughs. Delmar could not have said it better. Here are clips from the press conference:
When we elected Trump, we did this nation a horrendous disservice. We put an unqualified and unprepared man in the White House who is prone to making up stuff to suit the moment.
Veteran political journalist Elizabeth Drew, opened her critique of Trump for the New York Review of Books:
When the most unpopular and least prepared president-elect in modern history took the oath of office on January 20, most of Washington, like most of the country and the world, had little idea of the turbulence and disruption that he intended to bring to the job. Nonetheless those who’d watched him closely over the past year and a half were aware that he was manifestly unfit for a job that’s beyond the capacities of most people.
Examples of his turbulence and disruptions abound. Trump’s Delmar moment with the Israeli Prime Minister, is only one of many.
His cabinet choices have consistently been rejected by Democrats, unfortunately not enough Democrats, since Republicans hold a narrow lead in the Senate.
Trump has selected no Team of Rivals, as Doris Kearns Goodwin described Lincoln’s cabinet in her 2005 book of that name. Trump has no feel for how a divided government must serve a divided population.
His cabinet choices have been bizarre. He has catered exclusively to his base of voters, many of whom responded to his campaign of hate and fear, and to his friends in the one percent.
Betsy DeVos, his narrowly-approved Education Secretary, brings to her post a lifetime of support for private and religious schools and a disinterest in public education.
His Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, also narrowly approved, has a record of opposition to minority rights.
On Wednesday, Trump’s choice for Labor Secretary, Andrew Puzder, announced his withdrawal for consideration.
Puzder had been mired in a history of illegal business practices and open contempt for his employees. Puzder has been CEO of CKE Restaurants, Inc., the parent company of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. He was clearly hostile to the work of the agency he was appointed to lead.
Another blot on his record was a 30-year-old video tape of his wife describing abuse. The tape was recorded as the couple was embroiled in divorce proceedings. Puzder’s wife subsequently withdrew the allegations.
These stumbles in the cabinet approval process demonstrated a lack of experience and planning by the Trump administration. That same weakness was made even more apparent when Trump’s National Security adviser, General Michael Flynn, resigned before the Wednesday Trump-Netanyahu meeting.
What had been planned as a public boost for the two leaders, was radically transformed into a disaster on both sides of the Atlantic. Israeli media shifted its focus to the chaos in Washington.
Television broadcasts suggested that Trump’s primary hope for the meeting was to distract the U.S. public from what Yedioth Ahronoth called in a banner headline an ‘Administration in Crisis’.
“Donald Trump is becoming increasingly embroiled and bogged down in that scandal involving Russia,” reported Israel Channel Two correspondent Udi Segal, adding that Trump’s predicament “is also casting dark clouds over the Netanyahu visit, following the Michael Flynn resignation”. . . .
Off screen, you could hear hardline settlement activists breathing a welcome if tentative sigh of relief. This has been an arduous, anxious, humiliating and painful period for the settlement enterprise, punctuated by abrupt disappointment in Trump and what his presidency might mean for what had just recently seemed to be their sky’s-the-limit future.
In short, the hard-line settler movement in Israel now rejoices over Donald Trump’s role as Delmar, an American leader who demonstrated both ignorance and a dangerous naivety, in a central Middle East problem.
President Trump appears to have no clear understanding of the impact his public statements (nor his tweets) have on foreign or domestic opinion. So this Delmar exchange he has just had in front of a world public, may just be today’s Trumpism.
Elsewhere, Palestinian and Israelis, accustomed to U.S. policy impacting their daily lives, are reading the tea leaves. What they see, to use a Jewish meme, “is good for the Jews” and bad for the Palestinians.
Palestinian media outlet Maan News reported:
Palestinian Ambassador to the UN, Riyad Mansour, released a statement following the press conference saying that peace would not be achieved “without determining the basis of the peace process,” and highlighted the fact that the majority of the international community continued to support a two-state solution despite Trump and Netanyahu’s comments.
Fatah official Rafaat Elayyan also released a statement condemning the meeting, saying that Netanyahu and Trump had “publicly killed the dream of establishing a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.”
He also stated that Trump had disregarded international law and all previous agreements between the Palestinians and Israelis to achieve peace in the region.
“We are facing today an occupation that refuses to establish an independent state and aims to annex the West Bank and Jerusalem to Israel by expanding settlements supported by the US administration,” Elayyan said. He went on to urge the Palestinian leadership to “adopt a new strategy” based on unification that can end national conflict within Palestine.
Maan also reported that in Israel:
Right-wing ministers across the board indicated their view that Israel was entering a ‘new era’ not restricted by the two-state solution or longstanding peace standards established by the international community.
Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev, also from the Likud party, reportedly said that “the era of the freeze has ended. It’s the end of the [construction] freeze in Judea and Samaria,” an Israeli term for the West Bank, adding that “a new diplomatic era began in Washington today.”
Other right-wing ministers expressed their relief that the Israeli government no longer had to maintain an image of supporting the two-state solution which international peace efforts have focused on for decades as a route out of the Israeli-Palestinian impasse.
It is that “scandal involving Russia”, alluded to earlier, that is now Trump’s major burden. The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof asks, What did Trump Know and When Did he Know It?”
During the Watergate scandal, until now the most outrageous political scandal in American history, the crucial question was drawled by Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee: “What did the president know, and when did he know it?”
Today the question is the same.
This is not about Mike Flynn. It is about the president who appointed him, who earlier considered Flynn for vice president. The latest revelation of frequent contacts between the Trump team and Russian intelligence should be a wake-up call to Republicans as well as Democrats.
When Vice President Mike Pence was asked by Chris Wallace of Fox News on Jan. 15 if there had been any contacts between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, he answered: “Of course not. Why would there be any contacts?”
Great question, Mr. Vice President.
Kristof concludes his column with an appeal for a bipartisan investigation, “ideally an independent panel modeled on the 9/11 Commission. It must address what is now the central question: ‘What did the president know, and when did he know it?'”
Meanwhile, a final nod to that press conference where President Trump told Prime Minister Netanyahu what he should do is resolve the issues of peace and settlements.
Daily Show host Trevor Noah revealed Trump’s negotiation strategy which closely resembles what that beer-guzzling man pounding on the bar would do if he could speak to Netanyahu.
And so it comes to pass, another day and another set of self-induced problems for President Trump.
As the issue of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election awaits investigation, the world watches to see how deep any contacts with Russia go in the Trump White House.
Be prepared for anything. This is a presidency unlike anything we have ever seen. Will Trump succeed in bringing peace between Israel and Palestine? We now must wait and see.
For the Noah link, click below:
It loads slowly, but believe me, it is worth the effort.