Israel appears subdued ahead of President Trump's visit

JERUSALEM — There aren't as many Trump tchotchkes or posters visible as when past U.S. presidents have visited Israel for the first time.

The mood here appears uncharacteristically subdued ahead of President Trump's arrival Monday, even as airport workers set up customary security barriers and journalists were invited to view a dress rehearsal of the red carpet honor guard that will greet him.

In contrast, days before then-President Obama’s arrival in 2012, his wide smile flashed on outdoor posters, buttons, mugs and the front pages of Israeli newspapers.

Michael Evans, the founder and chair of the Friends of Zion Museum, an evangelical Christian organization, was so bothered by the lack of a popular welcome for Trump that Evans had posters printed with the phrases "Trump Is A Friend of Zion" and "Jerusalem Welcomes Trump" and paid workers to put them up on  King David Street.

Along Ben Yehuda Street, a popular tourist area, souvenir peddlers shrugged when asked about the lack of Trump trinkets on sale.

“No one knows what to make of him, so no one wants to risk being stuck with unsold junk," said Miri Cohen, a young Jerusalem mother who was enjoying an ice cream in the sun with her two toddlers.  "We thought he’d be good for us but maybe he’s unstable."

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who viewed Obama as a poor ally, greeted Trump’s election with barely disguised joy. Some Israelis have echoed Netanyahu's approval of the new American president and his first overseas visit.

Karen and Aviezer Solomon enjoyed lunch at a café on Tuesday along Jerusalem’s Bethlehem Road.

“I’m very pleased Trump is coming,” said Aviezer Solomon, a religious Jew. “He is completely pro-Israel. ... It is very important that he will be here and see the land of Israel is for himself.”

The Solomons live in the West Bank settlement of Kedumim, where they grow blueberries, and were making a delivery in Jerusalem.

Trump, during his trip to Israel, is scheduled to lay a wreath at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial, and meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyau and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem. In the Old City of Jerusalem, he plans a stop at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and private prayer at the Western Wall, where he is expected to be accompanied by his wife, Melania.

Jerusalem and Bethlehem are only 5½ miles apart, but are separated by a military checkpoint and a border wall that Trump has openly admired. Residents of each city cannot freely visit the other.

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On Bethlehem’s Star Street, a 19th-century alleyway leading to Nativity Square, Assem Barakat, 47, tended to his shop, full of fabrics, clothing and elaborate jewelry boxes.

As in Jerusalem, no hint of Trump souvenirs were visible. The only banner along the street directed tourists to Bethlehem’s Stars and Bucks Café.

Barakat, a Muslim, did not have many illusions. “I think he is coming just as a pilgrim, to be honest with you,” he said. Trump is a religious person. As a Palestinian, Trump is difficult. He is so pro-Israeli, so it will be like a pilgrimage. He will pray in the Nativity church. And you know, we Palestinians have good hospitality, so our government will receive him well, but we don’t expect anything for Palestinians.”

But some Palestinians have been positively surprised by positions taken by the Trump administration.

Nimala Kharoufeh, 35, a board member of Fatah youth, a wing of Abbas’s party, and a social activist, said that Trump's visit is “a good sign.”

“During his campaign, as a Palestinian, I heard him saying there will never be a Palestinian state and that he is pro-Israel no matter what, that he supports illegal settlements in the West Bank, so hearing these  new statements mentioning self-determination and knowing he is coming to visit us is a very positive step,” Kharoufeh said.

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In recent days, Israelis were buffeted by news that Trump's commitment to Israel may not be as solid as it initially seemed. The revelation that Trump had shared highly classified Israeli intelligence on an ISIS plot with Russian officials was a shock to Israelis, and confusing White House messaging on the subject of Jerusalem has left citizens here deeply uneasy.

“I have no idea what is happening with Trump,” Aviezer Solomon said later. “I don’t know if he will be good for Israel. His interests are American interests and his own, that’s it. ... We have to watch out for ourselves. What interests Trump is Trump. He’s a wild card.”

Zev Chafets, an author and longtime observer of Trump, agreed on Trump's unpredictability.

“Look, he could come here and declare that he wants to host Miss Israel next year. Nobody knows,” he said.

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Israel appears subdued ahead of President Trump's visit