Several months later, though, Trump arrives to bitter disappointment from his biggest fans in Israel. In his first talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in February, he asked him to “hold back” on settlement construction. The embassy hasn’t been moved yet—nor will it, at least in the near future. A group of settlers asked to meet with Trump on his visit, and were quickly rebuffed. Instead, there is enthusiastic talk from Washington about reviving the defunct peace process and striking what Trump calls “the ultimate deal” with the Palestinians.
Trump’s about-face has become a gnawing political headache for Netanyahu, who, according to people close to him, spent the past few weeks in a state of mild panic, worried that his right-wing allies will blame him for the mercurial president’s metamorphosis. “The question is not Trump. The question is Benjamin Netanyahu,” Bennett told me. “I think we’re blowing it, this huge opportunity to form a new policy.”
As ever, the crisis stems from Netanyahu’s conservatism—a prime minister known as “Mr. Status Quo” does not want to take dramatic steps in the occupied territories. Though he remains skeptical of a two-state solution, he fears the diplomatic consequences of a major push to expand settlements. He showed up for that first White House meeting without his own diplomatic plan. The Palestinians moved aggressively to fill the void, both in direct talks and through their Arab allies in Egypt, Jordan, and the Gulf. Critics say Netanyahu hasn’t pushed on the embassy issue, either; Fox News reported last week that he even privately urged Trump not to move it, out of fear of the consequences. (His office denied the report.)