'I stand in awe of the accomplishments of the Jewish people'

With boundless optimism but few specifics, Trump lays out Mideast peace vision

In keynote address at Israel Museum, US president calls on Israelis and Palestinians to put aside ‘pain and disagreements of the past;’ vows to prevent a nuclear Iran

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and US President Donald Trump speak at Ben Gurion International Airport prior to the latter's departure from Israel on May 23, 2017. (Koby Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and US President Donald Trump speak at Ben Gurion International Airport prior to the latter's departure from Israel on May 23, 2017. (Koby Gideon/GPO)

US President Donald Trump vowed Tuesday that his administration would stand by Israel in the face of terrorism and the threat of a nuclear Iran, while calling on Israelis and Palestinians to make compromises for peace.

Addressing an audience of politicians and other dignitaries at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, Trump, in a keynote speech at the very end of his Israel visit, spoke of an “unshakable bond” between his nation and the Jewish state.

Trump vowed to “always stand with Israel,” a nation he praised as “a testament to the unbreakable spirit of the Jewish people.”

He boasted of a “big, big beautiful difference” in relations between Jerusalem and Washington under his leadership, when compared to that of his predecessor. “America’s security partnership with Israel is stronger than ever.”

There was a lot of love for Israel in Trump’s speech, as he extolled it as a “thriving” nation responsible for great contributions to the region and the world.

“Through your hardships you’ve created one of the most abundant lands anywhere in the world, a land that is rich not only in history, culture and opportunity, but especially in spirit,” he said. “I stand in awe of the accomplishments of the Jewish people.”

Trump pushed for elusive peace between Israel and the Palestinians, calling on both sides to put aside the “pain and disagreements of the past” and declaring that both sides were ready to move forward.

“Palestinians are ready to reach for peace,” Trump said. Turning to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who joined him for the speech, he said “Benjamin Netanyahu wants peace.”

A longtime businessman, Trump has cast Middle East peace as the “ultimate deal” and has tasked his son-in-law Jared Kushner, and former real estate lawyer Jason Greenblatt with charting a course forward. Still, White House officials had downplayed the prospects for a breakthrough on this trip, saying it was important to manage their ambitions as they wade into terrain that has tripped up more experienced diplomats.

The president notably avoided all of the thorny issues that have stymied peace efforts for decades. He did not mention Israeli settlements, the status of Jerusalem or even whether the US would continue to insist on a two-state solution giving the Palestinians sovereign territory.

Aides said the approach was purposeful, and the normally free-wheeling Trump was well aware of the risks of veering off script on issue where every word is intensely scrutinized.

Trump did say he was “personally committed to helping Israelis and Palestinians achieve a peace agreement.” This, he said, would necessitate “tough decisions” by both sides.

“I know you’ve heard it before,” he noted, but went on to say he truly believed that with “determination, compromise, and the belief that peace is possible, Israelis and Palestinians can make a deal.”

On the subject of Iran and the threat it poses to Israel, Trump said Washington was “firmly committed” to keeping Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons, as well as “halting their support for terrorists and militias.

“Iran will not have nuclear weapons,” he vowed. “Iran calls for the destruction of Israel. Not with Donald J. Trump,” he said, to a standing ovation.

Turning to Monday night’s deadly suicide bombing in Manchester, the president said his thoughts and prayers, and those of the American people, went out to the people of Manchester. He sent his condolences to those affected by the “horrific” terror attack, a “heinous attack upon humanity.

“So many young, beautiful innocent people living and enjoying their lives, murdered by evil losers in life,” Trump said. Trump declared that he would not call the attackers “monsters,” a term he believed they would prefer, instead choosing “losers,” a longtime favorite Trump insult.

Trump spoke of the need for rational, peace-loving nations to come together and “build a coalition of partners” dedicated to eradicating extremism and terrorism to give future generations “a peaceful and hopeful future.”

“All decent people want to live in peace. And all humanity is threatened by the evils of terrorism,” he said.

“Let us dream of a future where Jewish, Muslim and Christian children can grow up together and live together in trust, harmony, tolerance, and respect.”

Conflict, he said, could not go on forever. “The only question is when nations will decide that they have had enough, enough bloodshed, enough killing.”

Violence, extremism and hate were not an unavoidable reality, he stressed. “No mother or father wants their children to grow up in a world where terrorists roam free… No child is born with prejudice in their heart. No one should teach young boys and girls to hate and to kill.”

Speaking briefly before Trump, Netanyahu expressed “deep” appreciation for the president’s friendship, and spoke of the need to work together to defeat militant Islam and terrorism, wherever they may appear.

“Israel has never had and will never have a better friend than the United States of America,” he said.

He expressed hope that peace could indeed move forward between Israel and its neighbors, “including the Palestinians.”

The first step, he said, was for Palestinians to “stop rewarding terrorists, stop glorifying murderers.”

Netanyahu, too, condemned the Manchester attack, and welcomed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s condemnation of the attack. But while he said he hoped Abbas’s statements reflected a change in attitude, he added that “if the attacker had been Palestinian, and the victims Israeli children, the suicide bomber’s family would have received a stipend from the Palestinian authority.

“That’s Palestinian law. That law must be changed,” he said.

From Israel, Trump was heading to Italy for an audience with Pope Francis. He’ll close his ambitious first foreign trip at a pair of summits in Brussels and Sicily, where his reception from European leaders may be less effusive than his welcome in Israel and Saudi Arabia, his opening stop on the trip.

AP and AFP contributed to this report.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed