Mitri Raheb: A week with Trump and Obama

This week the Peace Doers blog, has a special post. With President Trump visiting Saudi Arabia, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and the Vatican, we asked Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb to share his reflections on Trump’s travels.

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On Tuesday President Trump came to Bethlehem as part of his first visit to the Middle East. The trip had some religious connotations. It started in Saudi Arabia, home to the two most important shrines for Muslims. At a summit with the heads of the Arab and Muslim countries, Trump made one of his best deals so far; not a religious deal, but an arm deal for 110 billion dollars. The military industry in the US should be thrilled about this deal, but so is Saudi Arabia. President Trump spoke clearly against Iran which was music for Saudi ears. One wonder if the religious connotations of the trip were nothing else but a cover to an arm deal?

Trump’s second stop was in the Holy Land. His visit to the western wall and to the church of the Holy Sepulchre got a lot of media attention. Here he met with both the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and with the Palestinian President Abbas. President Trump is of the opinion that a historic deal between the Arab-Islamic countries and Israel is possible. The Palestinian leadership think that he is genuine in his belief. But people are very cautious. They still remember the high expectation President Obama created during his first visit to Egypt and his Cairo speech and how he wasn’t able or willing to walk the talk. If President Trump is as good in striking political deals as he is with arm deals then there is hope although Netanyahu is not interested in any deal whatsoever.

Most people in Bethlehem however did not expect anything from Trump. They have been disappointed time after time. Nevertheless, people were happy about his visit to Bethlehem because the PA and the city were eager to fix the main entrance to Bethlehem, a street that was closed and under construction for almost a year. The Trump visit gave the city the needed stamina to fix the road in an unprecedented tempo. Trump visit to the church of the Nativity was canceled to avoid a confrontation with those Palestinians who were protesting the Israeli treatment to the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails who have been on hunger strike for 35 days. A deal for the prisoners was not on the Trump agenda anyhow. People in Bethlehem were wondering what impact, if any, did the wall around the little town have on the American President. A wall on the Mexican borders is on the deal agenda for Trump. Will he ever dare to tell Netanyahu “Mr. President, tear this wall down.” They remember vividly how Pope Francis during his visit to Bethlehem asked to stop the convey so that he could pray at the separation wall.

Was this on the agenda of President Trump with the Vatican, the third religious center, where he met with Pope Francis? Besides terrorism, and climate change, peace in the Middle East might have been an agenda at the meeting. The Pope has demonstrated how religion can be a source of a positive change in the world.

While President Trump was in our region, I was in Berlin at a high level conference organized by the German Ministry for Foreign Affairs on the “Responsibility of Religions for Peace.” One hundred twenty Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Religious Leaders concluded their meeting with a brief message that stated:

“We are deeply saddened by the attack in Manchester last night, as we are by the many violent attacks that take place throughout the world. Our hearts and prayers go out to all affected. We aim to continue together to work to heal the wounds of history, to learn to live with difference and to build a culture of peace. Nothing will deter our joint aim to work for peace and reconciliation.”


Today I’m in Baden-Baden where President Obama is receiving the German Media Prize, a prize given for personalities that demonstrate excellence, vision, and leadership, a Prize I received in 2012. Our experience had taught us to expect more from outgoing presidents than incoming. Once American Presidents are free from lobbyist strings, they dare to speak up for a just peace in the Holy Land. Peace talks have been going on since Bill Clinton was President. Jesus reminds us that it’s the peacemakers not the peace-talkers that are called blessed.

Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb

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