President Trump and Israel – What to expect?

By Gideon

Political analysts attribute Trump’s lack of experience in global affairs and international diplomacy to the bold statements that he makes about Iran, China, Russia, Israel, and the Arab world. Trump says what he thinks, which is not what professional politicians normally do. The uneasiness is rooted in the fear of a potential damage that an inexperienced US president can cause to the delicate US relationships with many of its enemies and allies.  

So far, Trump is not giving in to the criticism, either because he wants to enter future negotiations with other countries from a position of strength, or because he believes that America, the strongest country in the world, should dictate to other countries what is acceptable and what is not, instead of being humiliated in unfavorable trade deals and international treaties. The two most mentioned examples are the US nuclear treaty with Iran, and the trade agreements with China and Mexico, which Trump views as failures of previous US administration to protect US interests in international negotiations.

Trump’s position on Israel should be viewed in the same context. 

In Trump’s view, Israel, just like America, has suffered repeated humiliations during the Obama administration and that the time has come to change that. He is intending on showing the world and Israel that America is strong, and that the US is standing side by side with its allies. Trump has chosen the controversial and sensitive issue of  the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem to make his point.

Although the 104th US Congress had passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995  on October 23, 1995, to initiate the relocation of the Embassy of the United States in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999, previous American presidents, as hawkish as they may have been in support of Israel, were always careful not to upset the Arab world by relocating the US embassy to Jerusalem. The law has never been implemented, because of opposition from Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama, who view it as a Congressional infringement on the executive branch’s constitutional authority over foreign policy; they have consistently claimed the presidential waiver on national security interests.

Trump statements on this issue during the election season and beyond are indicating that as President Trump is intending on changing this policy. Trump said repeatedly that he is going to move the embassy to Jerusalem. His close advisers are indicating that once elected, he’ll do it quickly. 

His appointment of David Friedman to be the next U.S. ambassador to Israel is a  strong signal of how the relationship between the United States and Israel will look like during Trump’s presidency:

Friedman, who has no career experience with either policy or diplomacy, is an Orthodox Jewish lawyer who advised Trump during the campaign. A close friend and confidant of Trump. He holds conservative views in direct opposition to long-standing U.S. policy positions. Friedman opposes a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, actively supports Israeli settlements and advocates for Israel’s annexation of the West Bank, maintaining that the occupied Palestinian Territories are not occupied.

The Trump administration will  start its journey in international affairs as a strong supporter of Israel. It will maintain this course as long as Israel does the same. It is actually  up to Israel to ensure that the relationships between the two countries remain strong. Trump will not tolerate an independent Israeli foreign policy toward Russia, as Israel did during the Obama administration. He’ll expect Israel to be fully supportive  of the US policy in international negotiations. Trump will not tolerate an uncoordinated speech of an Israeli prime minister in the US congress, as Netanyahu did despite President Obama’s objection in attempt to block the Iranian nuclear deal. 

Israel is a democracy. It is hard to imagine that all Trump’s actions will be viewed favorably by the Israeli press. He’ll be criticized the same way he is being criticized by the US press. The Israeli government will have to find a way to balance between local politics, local criticism, and national interests to ensure productive relationships with the Trump administration.

One example of a potential conflict could be attempts by right wing Israelis to capitalize on the opportunity of a sympathetic administration to initiate massive construction projects in Judea and Samaria, something that may not be acceptable to the US. The current right wing Israeli government, although sympathetic to this idea, will have to find the balance between satisfying its voters and the Trump administration.

For right or wrong, because of the poor personal relationships between Obama and Netanyahu, the Obama presidency is viewed as a low point in US-Israeli relations. However, under President Obama  Israel received a record high military aid and a great diplomatic support in International affairs (with one exception; the Iranian nuclear deal). During the Obama presidency, the US provided a strong diplomatic shield, repeatedly blocking anti-Israeli initiatives in the UN and other international forums. It is hard to imagine that president Trump could do more than this. The tone will be more friendly, but the actions will probably be the same with few minor course corrections, such as the relocation of the embassy to Jerusalem and warmer receptions during visits of  Israeli prime ministers to Washington.

President Trump is likely to be a more financially conservative president. He may scrutinize harder Israel’s requests for financial and military aid as he tries to rebuild the US military, reduce the US debt, and rebuild America’s infrastructure. During Trump’s presidency, Israel may not receive the same kind of record high military aid.

Understanding how the US-Israel relations will look like during Trump’s presidency will come soon enough, during the first conflict between the two countries. It won’t take long, given the volatility of the Middle East, the political environment in Israel, the inexperience of President Trump in international affairs, the pressure to control cost in the US, the insulting liberal Israeli press, the constant special attention and time consuming that Israel demands from all American presidents, the independence of the US congress when it comes to protecting Israel’s interests, Trumps temperament and ego, the list is long…


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