Alistair Burt
Alistair Burt

Let’s hope mr unpredictable can produce a few surprises

As with almost every other element of his imminent presidency, it is hard to give any authoritative prediction of what is to come in terms of Donald Trump’s relationship with Israel.

We know some things from his pronouncements during the campaign, but to what extent they are any guide is debateable.

Understandably, policy appeared to develop over time, from a nuanced neutrality on the Palestinian issue, to the moving of the US Embassy to Jerusalem.

But even so, the Oval Office is different from the campaign trail – even for him.

As with all US presidents, I think we can be sure that he will be a friend to Israel. The question is whether he will be a friend like John Kerry, prepared to say hard truths and urge progress on the Middle East peace process?

Or will he be a less critical friend? If he is the latter, then the consequences for Israel’s domestic policy may be profound.

At present, it appears that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is able to use the White House to rein in the more extreme fringes of those to his right.

If that bulwark is taken away, even the great survivor might be in trouble, with the risk of a new coalition moving to the worrying territory of annexation, and the abandonment of a two-state possibility.

I was in Jerusalem when news came through of the president-elect’s choice of US Ambassador to Israel.

The mood of disquiet that followed was tangible.

David Friedman’s active support for settlers places him in a difficult position to be seen as offering the impartial advice, which should be the hallmark of another state’s position, no matter how friendly or well-disposed.

To be seen as being on one side or another of an increasingly divided Israeli, and worldwide Jewish community – with some outrageous and disparaging remarks about groups of which he disapproves in his background – won’t make his president’s position any easier.

And moving the embassy would not help.

Trump has also suggested his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, could be an envoy. This would be an even more inexperienced choice at this level.

Is it enough to have the president’s trust but be tasked to tackle possibly the world’s most intractable yet important impasse?

In short, no, and he will need good back-up.

However, and ever the optimist, all the clever conventional experts up to now have failed to resolve a situation
that ultimately requires not management but an end.

Perhaps in this Balfour year, for young Palestinians and Israelis alike who deserve better, let us pray that Mr Unpredictable might surprise us all.

About the Author
Alistair Burt is a Conservative MP for North East Bedfordshire
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