Israelis want to know what Donald Trump is thinking right now.
Trump stepped off Air Force Monday was immediately welcomed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with an elaborate red carpet ceremony at Ben-Gurion International Airport – far away from the Russia-related investigations that roil Washington.
But residents of Jerusalem can’t help wondering if Trump’s thoughts are elsewhere. They worry about his mindset, particularly as he seeks to revive a delicate peace process with the Palestinians.
Eli Harosh, 48, likes Trump. He’s decisive. He’s a strong leader who knows the world must use strength to confront terrorism and Iran, Harosh said.
But Trump is also unpredictable and stressed. He may press harder than he should for something that he can claim as a victory. And that worries Harosh.
“He could blurt something out like ‘you have to return territory to the Palestinians’,” said Harosh, a sanitation manager who supports President Benjamin Netanyahu. “Then there is a problem for both countries. It’s not easy to fix a statement like that.”
After two long days in Saudi Arabia, Trump arrived in Israel Monday on the second leg of his five country tour. He’ll visit Jerusalem and the West Bank to try to resurrect the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
He could blurt something out like you have to return territory to the Palestinians.
Eli Harosh, sanitation manager
During Monday’s lavish welcome ceremony, Nentanyahu praised Trump visiting Israel on his first foreign trip. Nentanyahu didn’t have to mention that former President Barack Obama didn’t visit the country until his second term; Israelis remember.
“Your visit here, Mr. President, is truly historic,” Nentanyahu told Trump.
Netanyahu made no mention of what Trump is facing at home, where he’s under siege for firing the FBI director after allegedly asking him to drop an investigation into his former national security adviser. He’s being criticized for allegedly disclosing highly classified intelligence to Russian officials. The probe of possible collusion between his campaign staff and Russia has been handed to Robert Mueller as special counsel. And Congress vows to continue its probes.
Netanyahu didn’t have to mention those controversies, Israelis know.
With two young children, Netaniel Rein, 31, said he understands how chaos at home can affect you at work. He couldn’t even imagine how Trump wouldn’t be distracted by challenges at home.
“How can he not be?” said Rein, a local doctor, as he and his wife, Sarah Haruni-Rein, 28, watched their two children playing on coin-operated airplane ride in the vibrant German Colony neighborhood. “You can’t run a country in peace with so much responsibility while under investigation. He may not be under direct investigation, but it’s around the corner.”
To Israelis, it feels familiar. Netanyahu has been under criminal investigation for accepting lavish gifts from a Hollywood producer for months.
Now we must work together to build a future in which the nations of the region are at peace.
President Donald Trump
Yair Asch, 21, a solider spent his last Sunday evening of a weekend leave hanging with other soldiers on the sidewalk of a main thoroughfare full of trendy shops, restaurants and cafes.
Trump’s controversies in Washington affects them too. Asch worried about the allegation that the intelligence Trump shared with the Russians was gathered by Israeli intelligence.
It could make intelligence officials reluctant to share sensitive information, he said, even though he also agrees with the White House position that it was appropriate to share the information that the Islamic State may use laptop computers as weapons on airplanes.
“We’re all for fighting terrorism,” Asch said. “So if that’s true, then it’s okay. It’s good.”
But his friend, Yonatan Ben-Sasson, 21, wasn’t so sure, though, like Asch, he wanted to give Trump the benefit of the doubt.
“It’s bad if he’s being irresponsible with the information,” Ben-Sasson said. “I hope he’s not.”
Ammon Yaacobi, who owns a toy store across the street, also worried Trump will press harder than he should for something he can point to as progress on the peace process.
“He has to show a big achievement here to minimize the process at home,” Yaacobi said.
Gidon Yakobi, who owns the hardware store on the block, dismisses the political talk. He said more people coming into his store are concerned about the traffic and not a president who want to change the subject of conversation back home.
While there appeared to be some planning problems related to the trip – Trump asked the prime minister “What is the protocol?” as he descended the steps of Air Force One to the tarmac – Trump kicked off the trip with great fanfare saying “Israel has built one of the world’s great civilizations.”
“Now we must work together to build a future in which the nations of the region are at peace, and all of our children can grow, and grow up strong, and grow up free from terrorism and violence,” Trump said.
Trump will start his trip with a stop in Jerusalem’s Old City where he will visit the Western Wall, one of Judaism’s holiest site. Then he’ll visit one of Christianity’s most sacred sites, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher nearby, built, tradition has it, over the sites of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial.
On Tuesday, Trump will meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during a visit to the West Bank city of Bethlehem.
Sitting on a bench, Akiva Ragen, 31, who writes educational books, called the U.S. investigation in Washington “fake news” and thinks a politically motivated media is out to get Trump.
“Although people might mistake him to be thin-skinned, he’s actually sort of a guy who I think doesn’t evaluate himself by other people’s perspectives on him,” Ragen said. “I think he’s going to leave them in the dust.”
But Rein said he doesn’t understand how a leader of such an important country can do his job successfully while under investigation.
“I couldn’t, even with the best mental strength, extract myself from that,” Rein said. “I couldn’t.”
McClatchy special correspondent Joel Greenburg contributed to this report from Jeruslaem.