While we do not know how President Trump’s first soiree out of the country will ultimately be judged, (he still has important stops to make in the Vatican, Brussels and Italy) so far so good. Trump’s trip is going well because Trump is assiduously avoiding being Trump. His public comments have been devoid of Trumpian bombast, hyperbole or off-the-cuff, spontaneous miscues.
His speech to many leaders of Islamic countries and kingdoms in Riyadh was direct, relevant, presidential and focused on things that had to be said, and should have been said years ago. Finally, an American President discussed Islamic terrorism with leaders of Islamic-majority countries, and the sky didn’t fall, and the earth didn’t spin off its axis.
Of course, President Trump came with $110 billion worth of goodies that will goose both the Saudi economy (which badly needs goosing) as well as our own economy as the Saudi’s contract with American defense companies for tens of billions of dollars in military equipment. Given that the US-Iran nuclear deal provided a largess for Iran to purchase weapons and fund terrorism on the Arabian Peninsula and elsewhere, the investment in Saudi defense capability seems acceptable.
There was more going on in Riyadh then met the untrained eye. Think of it. In barely two days, President Trump, in a summit trifecta, met separately with the Saudi King, leaders of the Gulf States and with an impressive cross-section of the heads-of-state of the Sunni Arab world. We would not be surprised to see more public thawing of relations between the Gulf states and Israel as a result of this trip. Who knows, perhaps the ancient Arab adage that the enemy of my enemy is my friend will actually prove to be true. Even Trump’s flight from Riyadh to Tel Aviv was somewhat historic merely because it was a very rare direct flight.
The highlight of the President’s first day in Israel was his visit to the Western Wall, the last remaining vestige of the Second Temple, which was destroyed by Rome during the conquest of Jewish Jerusalem in 70 AD. Many consider the Western Wall to be the most sacred site in Judaism. It is the retaining wall on top of which rests the Temple Mount, believed to be where the ancient biblical tabernacle and its inner sanctuary once stood, which religious Jews believe housed the holy of holies, where God actually dwelt. By all accounts it was a moving experience for both the President and his Jewish daughter, Ivanka who remarked, “It was deeply meaningful to visit the holiest site of my faith and to leave a note of prayer.”
That President Trump and his daughter visited the Western Wall is no small matter. No other American President has ever done that. That’s because, according to international law codified without respect to history, the Western Wall is not considered to be a part of Israel, but rather part of the disputed West Bank.
Israel liberated the Western Wall when it liberated Jerusalem and the old walled city including its former Jewish quarter during the six-day war fifty years ago. The old Jewish quarter, which was called the Jewish quarter because, well, it was where Jews lived, and had lived for time in memorial. The Jews were forced out during the 1948 Israeli War of Independence and the ancient Jewish quarter wound up in Jordanian hands.
Interestingly, no one in the international community protested “the occupation” of the Jewish quarter by Jordan, or, for that matter, Jordan’s entire occupation of the disputed West Bank. Contrary to the armistice terms following the fighting in1948, Jews were given no access to the old Jewish quarter nor to any of the synagogues or other Jewish landmarks. In fact, the Jordanians systematically destroyed or otherwise desecrated most of the Jewish holy sites, to which no one except Jews objected.
The Jordanians were quite proud of their obliteration of Jewish life in the old Jewish quarter. Jordanian Colonel Abddullah el Tell, who commanded local units of the Jordanian Arab Legion proudly described the destruction of the Jewish quarter in his memoirs. Let us quote: “… The operations of calculated destruction were set in motion…. I knew that the Jewish Quarter was densely populated with Jews…. I embarked, therefore, on the shelling of the Quarter with mortars, creating harassment and destruction…. Only four days after our entry into Jerusalem the Jewish Quarter had become their graveyard. Death and destruction reigned over it…. As the dawn of Friday, May 28, 1948, was about to break, the Jewish Quarter emerged convulsed in a black cloud – a cloud of death and agony.”
And so, following the Six-Day War, the old Jewish Quarter, or what was left of it, was back in Jewish hands. That’s how it became “occupied territory,” according to the sages who divine international law.
And that is where President Trump and his son-in-law and daughter respectfully, rightfully and resolutely approached the ancient remnant of the second temple known as the Western Wall, and either symbolically or earnestly communed with a painful past and, presumably, prayed for a better future.
So far, so good, Mr. President.
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