Not many world leaders can claim to be on friendly personal terms with Donald Trump. There are fewer still who would regard a visit to this particular president’s White House as a crowning achievement, and one which would increase their popularity at home rather than being seen as a moral failing. So the lesson of Benjamin Netanyahu’s triumphant meeting with the US president deserves particular scrutiny for having jumped all these hurdles.
Admittedly, it helps to be a right wing Israeli Prime Minister at a time of Republican ascendancy. Netanyahu’s relationship with Barack Obama was famously abrasive. Any successor was bound to be an improvement, even if the strong US-Israel relationship goes far deeper than the Presidential level. This week’s annual Policy Conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, for example, has been attended by over 15,000 delegates, including much of Congress.
But the Trump-Netanyahu relationship is of a different order. Much has been made of the fact that both leaders are facing legal probes of varying degrees of seriousness, and that their meeting was a chance for both of them to rail against the ‘fake news’ that they have suggested is responsible for their woes. But this factor cannot explain Trump’s move in recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and his reiteration that the US embassy would be moving in May to celebrate Israel’s 70th birthday. On Netanyahu’s watch.
So maybe the explanation is far simpler. From day one of the Trump ascendancy, Netanyahu recognised the need to treat the leader of the free world with respect, rather than contempt. When Trump made promises on the campaign trail, Netanyahu took him seriously. And Trump responded by delivering on his word.
Other world leaders should pay attention. Bibi has helped make history with his approach. His country has benefited as a result. And Trump’s boldness has been visionary. So perhaps countries merely see the side of this US president that they project upon him. It bears some thinking about.