Days after he was elected president, Trump again mentioned a desire to bring peace, seeing it as the apotheosis of his dealmaker reputation. “That’s the ultimate deal,” Trump said. “As a deal maker, I’d like to do … the deal that can’t be made. And do it for humanity’s sake.” Later in November, speaking to the Times again, he boasted that he could make it happen.
“I’ve had a lot of, actually, great Israeli businesspeople tell me, you can’t do that, it’s impossible,” Trump said. “I disagree, I think you can make peace. I think people are tired now of being shot, killed. At some point, when do they come? I think we can do that. I have reason to believe I can do that.”
After the election, Trump’s commitment to the process came under question as his public stances became significantly more hardline on Israel. He nominated David Friedman, an especially right-wing figure with a history of inflammatory statements (including calling Obama an anti-Semite and comparing liberal American Jews to ghetto “kapos”) and no diplomatic experience, as his ambassador to Israel. Trump and Friedman both also vowed to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a long-running wish of Israeli leaders that Palestinians have said would destroy the peace process.
Trump continued along the same road in February. He first refused to take an official stance on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, reversing longstanding American policy of opposing new settlements. That cheered the Israeli right but rattled the international community, Palestinians, and liberal Israelis. Two weeks later, he went even further, saying he had no particular commitment to the two-state solution. “I’m looking at two states and one state, I like the one that both parties like,” the president said at a White House press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “I can live with either one.” He had said things like this during the campaign, but now that he was president, the comment was especially startling.
Since then, however, Trump has been distracted by crises foreign and domestic. He has notably gone quiet on his plan to move the U.S. Embassy, though Vice President Pence insisted on Tuesday that the president is “seriously considering” a move.
Ahead of Wednesday’s comments, Trump addressed the peace process during the same interview with Reuters in which he expressed chagrin at the difficulty of the presidency. “I want to see peace with Israel and the Palestinians,” he said. “There is no reason there’s not peace between Israel and the Palestinians—none whatsoever.”
That statement begs not to be taken seriously, and Trump almost certainly did not mean it seriously. He’s aware that there are reasons why there isn’t peace. But is he aware of what those reasons are? Outside of the context of pre-written remarks such as his AIPAC speech, Trump has almost never spoken in any detail about the barriers to peace. Instead, he continues to discuss it as though it’s a real-estate transaction—just a matter of getting the right things for each side.