A friend recently observed about President Donald Trump: "Ignore what he says, but watch what he does." In general, this is a useful guide to the rollercoaster ride that is the Trump Presidency. But on some occasions, it is useful to note what he says--especially when he is speaking off the cuff in discussions with world leaders.
In September, when he was in New York City to address the United Nations General Assembly, President Trump told UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was "the bigger problem" in making progress towards an Israel-Palestine peace deal. The account of the discussion was provided by a Western diplomat and was reported in both the Israeli daily Haaretz and in The Hill, which circulates widely in the U.S. Congress.
A White House official responded to the Haaretz account but never denied that the President made those comments about Netanyahu: "This was a short but productive meeting that primarily focused on U.N. reforms and the great job Ambassador Haley has been doing. After discussing the United States' defense of Israel at the U.N., the participants quickly addressed the ongoing peace conversations... We are focusing on our productive conversations and not on the noise created by spoilers."
Given the President's bellicose UNGA speech and his more recent withdrawal of the United States from UNESCO over its alleged anti-Israel biases, the comments to Guterres were clearly not the stuff from which one can divine any kind of breakthrough on the Israel-Palestine impasse. But it does suggest that, on a certain level, the President knows the score and that any breakthrough on a settlement will have to come either from a big shift from Netanyahu or his replacement as prime minister.
In a recent episode of Fox TV's interview show Objectified, the host traveled to Israel to interview Netanyahu. While the Israeli PM said nothing of substance and it was more of a personality profile than a geopolitical dialogue, I was struck by Netanyahu's arrogance and narcissism--even as he was trying to come across as an average Joe.
Sooner or later, I see a blowup coming between Trump and Netanyahu, and the U.S. President's brief moment of candor with the UN Secretary General should be lodged in the back of your mind, as it is in mine.