Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Ronald Lauder Cozies Up to Trump as His Estranged Ally Netanyahu Watches and Worries

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Ronald Lauder Cozies Up to Trump as His Estranged Ally Netanyahu Watches and Worries

Article excerpt

THE LAST WEEK of April was a big week for Ronald Lauder. Not only did the World Jewish Congress, which he heads, make international headlines thanks to the U.S. President Donald Trump's video message at its plenary assembly's opening dinner, but the president's speech also stressed the personal connection between the two men.

"I want to thank Ronald Lauder, not only for his many years of friendship-and he truly has been my good friend, he even predicted early that I was going to win the presidency-but also for his leadership of this organization. He has done a fantastic job," Trump said.

Trump wasn't the only big name paying homage to Lauder and his organization during the two-day WJC plenary assembly, where he was elected president of the organization for the third time. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres also spoke at the Sunday night dinner, on Tuesday U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley paid a visit, and in a final surprise, Israel's President Reuven Rivlin made an appearance in a video message.

One face and voice, however, was conspicuously absent. There was no video message from Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu-there was not even a written greeting to be read aloud.

The contrast of Trump's embrace and Netanyahu's absence spoke volumes. Lauder and Netanyahu's is the story of a long, once-close and mutually beneficial relationship gone sour-largely due to Netanyahu, who pushed his longtime supporter away. The current chapter appears to be one in which Lauder has the ability to unsettle Netanyahu, once his close friend and key supporter, with his ability to whisper in Trump's ear. This is increasingly problematic for the prime minister and his supporters in the U.S. since Lauder, pro-Israel Republican he may be, makes no secret of the fact that he believes a negotiated two-state solution should move forward.

Jacob Kornbluh, a reporter for Jewish Insider who is well connected in Trump's Jewish circles, reported Tuesday that multiple sources around the president have told him that Lauder has "convinced Trump that 'the ultimate deal' between Israelis and Palestinians is achievable, a deal that has eluded each of Trump's immediate predecessors. Lauder is said to have told the president that the Palestinians are 'desperate' for a deal and that 'Israel is the problem.'" He added that there are those in Trump's circles who-unhappily, it seems-call Lauder "the Palestinians' man in DC." It has also been noted that Lauder met with Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Cairo in March, paving the way for the Egyptian leader's warm reception in Trump's White House.

Trump likes people familiar to him, and Lauder is a face he has known for 50 years. The two men are wealthy New Yorkers of the same generation-both attended the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. Lauder, however, enjoyed easier entree into Manhattan high society as heir to his mother Estée Lauder's cosmetics empire. The elder Lauder was helpful to young Trump while he was building his fortune and his brand, even naming a fragrance after him.

Later, Ronald Lauder and Trump bonded politically over their support for and admiration of Ronald Reagan. In the 1980s the two men were New York tabloid fixtures: Trump for his audacious real estate and personal escapades, and Lauder for his stint as Reagan's ambassador to Austria and his subsequent unsuccessful attempt to break into local politics by running for mayor in 1989. (He lost the Republican primary to Rudy Giuliani despite spending record sums on his campaign. …

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