Netanyahu And Trump-It Is Iran, Not The Settlements

President Trump foreign policy may seem to be chaotic, not unlike the overall performance of the new administration, but there are two elements of it, which have direct bearing on Israel, and which seem to shape up in a way which indicates coherence. One is the attitude towards settlements, one is the approach towards the rogue Iranian regime. The wet dream of Naftali Bennett, Tzipi Hotovali and other settlements-obsessed nationalist politicians about a cart blanche given to Israel with regard to expanding existing settlements and constructing new ones was , is and will continue to be delusional, detached from reality and overall damaging to Israel’s national/strategic interest. Not so with PM Netanyahu own focus on Iran.

It is a matter of double standards, sheer hypocrisy and false reading of the important Middle East realities, but the settlements have become a major Achilles hill for Israel, chiefly because of the silly belief of so many, that the settlements constitute THE most significant impediment to peace with the Palestinians, but sometimes, such deeply held beliefs, near universal conventional wisdom are hard , if not outright impossible to change. Even die-hard supporters of Israel, including in the US, and also in the new administration, are not fans of turning the settlements into the litmus test of the relationships with Israel. For Israel, therefore, to focus on this one issue is a crucial mistake, total misreading of the signals already amply supplied by the new administration. The WH statement after the first announcement about building plans in Judea and Samaria,that the subject would be discussed with Netanyahu on 15 February, while not repeating the usual Onbamaseque ”illgetimate, impediment to peace” message, was a polite , friendly reminder to Israel, to simply leave that issue aside, but the sensitive message, from an administration known already for its lack of sensitivity, was completely misunderstood in Jerusalem. The inevitable WH reaction , was still in the realm of politeness and empathy towards Israel, but this time with a pointed policy message. Stop bothering us with that, stop making unnecessary announcements, stop dreaming about new settlements, and be happy that we consider existing settlements as being legitimate and NOT being an impediment to peace. Netanyahu should have jumping up and down with joy, telling ”I told you so”, and declaring victory,but he did not. He has coalition partners on his hands, he has Amona , and he may feel a need to justify Kissinger’s old cliche , about Israel having only domesic politics to contend with, not foreign policy considerations. Well, Netanyahu can still prove Kissinger wrong, and himself a statesman. He needs to come to Trump in few days time with a strategic blue print of future understandings between Israel and the US, and he got a broad hint from Trump as to his priority, and this is Iran.

Netanyahu himself should not be preached about the importance of Iran, as he turned this issue into his trump political card in recent years, including aggravating already tensed relations with the Obama Administration and the Democratic party[he was right on substance, wrong on tactics], and he proved right with his concerns. The Iran nuclear deal has been a disaster, strengthening Iran, turning it to an ever greater danger to Israel and overall regional stability in the Middle East. Here is where the importance of the Iran factor as being THE center of gravity of Israeli regional policy. Iran can be the key to a dramatic improvement in the relations between Israel and some of the most important Sunni Muslim states in the Middle East. Iran is a key factor in the attempts to achieve an arrangement in Syria, Iran is the benefactor of Hizballah, and Iran is NOT on friendly terms with Turkey, a country which Israel has interesting, though problematic strategic relations with. On top of all that, the Trump
Administration does not like the Iran nuclear deal. wants to reduce its negative impact on the region, and has already started to take actual steps along this line. Here is where Netanyahu should focus-come with a detailed, regional plan about how to deal with Iran, do what is important to both Israel and the administration, do not do what is important only to Bennett and Hotovali.

For decades, the Israeli-American strategic alliance was based on commonality of values, as well as similarity , even very close one, of strategic-regional interests. Obama and Kerry worked diligently to destroy all that. Now is the chance to restore the foundations, with an administration which is interested, but one which can still turn around-it is called the ”art of the deal”.offer Trump a deal he cannot refuse to, not something which he will be eager to reject.

About the Author
Dr Josef Olmert, a Middle East expert, is currently an adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina