I write today because with the UN General Assembly behind us, and having listened with particular interest to the speech of President Trump, I must declare something that I have long suspected, but now know to be the case.
Thus far, with exclusive, specific regard to the State of Israel, I prefer both the actions and the deeds of this President to those of his predecessor. Let me repeat that. Thus far, with exclusive, specific regard to the State of Israel, I prefer both the actions and the deeds of this President to those of his predecessor.
My reasons are below. I submit them fully mindful of the fact that while many here in Israel will agree with me, others will surely disagree.
1) PRESIDENTIAL INDECISION = ISRAELI URGENCY AND FEAR.
In August, 2013, Bashar Al-Assad deployed chemical weapons against his own people, gassing hundreds to death. President Obama girded for a punitive strike by the United States against Syria. Vociferous declarations of the moral imperative for the U.S. to strike came from the President and from Secretary of State Kerry.
Yet some ten days after the chemical attack, following a walk around the White House grounds with then Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough, President Obama convened a press conference announcing a markedly downgraded policy position. Reiterating his continuing support for a strike, he decided to bring the issue before Congress prior to taking any military action. Ultimately, Congress turned it’s face against a strike.
The President’s indecision carried little real time consequence for the average American. Life in the U.S. continued as normal. It is good that it did so.
But here in Israel President Obama’s words had a very different outcome. Here, as Congress deliberated, the Israeli government calculated that due to the time granted Assad to plot his retaliation, a strike on Syria by the United States could well lead to a retaliatory strike by Assad upon our country, one that would be aimed squarely at our citizenry. What were days of debate for American politicians were days of panicked urgency for Israeli civilians.
It was we, the Israeli people, not the American people, who were urged by our government to leave our homes, report to make-shift distribution depots, and urgently collect gas masks for ourselves and for our families in readiness for an impending chemical attack from the north.
When it comes Israel, words uttered in the white house produce real time consequences over here. I’m not at all sure that was fully appreciated, but it ought to have been.
I suspected we would see repeated attacks by Assad against his own, but the ‘gas mask’ reality I had witnessed here was one I hoped to never see repeated.
And so, when on April 4th, 2017, Assad launched a further chemical attack against his own people, with a different President occupying the oval office, I was pleased by the actions of President Trump.
Within days, without public discourse, the Trump administration had carried out a punitive strike against Assad’s air-bases. By April 6th, the strike had been launched, conducted and concluded.
Here in Israel, the Trump approach resulted in no panic among our people. It resulted in zero disruption to our daily lives. Most notably, no chemical attack against Israel came from Syria as a consequence of the strike.
As an Israeli, on U.S. policy and it’s affect upon Israel, I prefer the Trump approach to the approach of Obama, therefore.
2) ON VISITS TO THE MIDDLE EAST AND (SOMETIMES) TO ISRAEL
On June 4th, 2009, mere months after taking office, in the course of his first visit to the middle east as President, Barack Obama presented his ‘Cairo Speech’ which called for the establishment of a Palestinian State in accordance with the lines of the ‘Roadmap.’
As such, the President reinvigorated a moribund process, predicated upon the dubious notion of land for peace, while applying inordinate, sustained, diplomatic pressure upon Prime Minster Netanyahu from the get go. President Obama effectively demanded that Israel engage in further land concessions, partition Jerusalem, remove yet more Jewish communities from the West Bank/Judea & Samaria and accede to a great many other requirements beyond. Incidentally, he did so while excluding Israel from his mid-east travel itinerary; a move that was considered by many Israelis to be an overt snub, particularly when coupled with the content of the ‘Cairo Speech.’
America was not merely pressuring Israel. America had emboldened the international community to do the very same, following the President’s lead.
By contrast, President Trump visited the middle east in May of this year, his arrival to the region an earlier feature of his administration than his predecessor’s. A visit to Israel constituted a central feature of that trip, and to this day he has placed no overt pressure upon Israel to make concessions that may not be in the best interests of the Israeli people or our future. He has endorsed no particular peace plan. He has not publicly butted heads with the Israeli Prime Minister. He has not made Israelis feel that they are the unique object of his focus on matters of geopolitics.
Worry not. The debate about pathways to peace is alive and well domestically. It rages in the hallways of government, in the media, in the marketplace and throughout the Israeli street. We will continue to wrestle with the issue with uncommon ferocity, precisely because the outcome of the debate is ours to live with. We will do so with all due rigor however, not with all undue pressure from Washington.
As an Israeli, on presidential visits to our region, I again prefer the Trump approach to the approach of Obama.
3) ON INTERNATIONAL AND INTERPERSONAL RELATIONS
From the outset of the previous administration, whether by way of the publicly fraught meetings in the oval office, or the avowed disagreements over the JCPOA, there were seemingly endless examples of horn locking between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. Contrary to the oft expressed notion that ‘disagreements among leaders does not affect U.S. policy toward Israel,’ I believe the very opposite to be true, or at least very likely. The U.S. failure to veto resolution 2334 serves as a prime example of that.
To me, the most wounding examples of such fallouts were those manifested at the dais of the U.N. General Assembly. For, from that platform uniquely, not only were criticism and pressure upon Israel promoted by President Obama, they were expressed in the physical, sitting presence of world leaders, several of whom are sworn adversaries of the Jewish State.
The sharpest such example came on September 24th, 2014, where having outlined the global woes of disease, terrorism, fundamentalism, annexation and aggression, President Obama went on to assert that where Israel is concerned,
“The violence engulfing the region today has made too many Israelis ready to abandon the hard work of peace. And that’s something worthy of reflection within Israel.”
This dreadfully inaccurate statement, leveled less than a month after the conclusion of Operation Protective Edge, singled out the State of Israel as the sole member of the community of democratic states obstructing the road toward a broader, regional and global peace.
It again alluded to the policy of Israeli land concessions, just weeks after the conclusion of the third, successive, defensive campaign marshaled by Israel in the Gaza Strip against a terror regime that launches war against us from the very land Israel vacated in a bid to end the conflict.
At the time of the speech, the bodies of Israel’s dead had barely grown cold, and some of those killed in the course of the conflict were then, as now, yet to be returned to their homes and to their families for burial in Israel. Yet the President falsely purported to be channeling the broad mindset of the Israeli population. His words referenced not too many ‘Israeli politicians’ being ready to abandon the hard work of peace. His unsubstantiated words referenced too many ‘Israelis.’
By contrast, this September 19th, President Trump, speaking from the plenum, mentioned Israel only once, affirming his rejection of Iran’s assertion that Israel must be destroyed.
No pressure was placed upon Israel to rush toward peace policies that have thus far proven flawed at best, disastrous at worst.
Israel was not chastised from the microphone by the American President. Any disagreements between Prime Minister and President were rendered speculative at best; at least for the time being.
As an Israeli, here again, on international and interpersonal relations, I prefer the Trump approach to the approach of Obama.
4) ON ONE CONDITION: IF OUR GOVERNMENT PREFERS NOT TO BE PRESSURED, IT MUST ACT!
So while I believe the circumstances to be better today than in the past, we should enjoy that improvement with one clear condition. Israel’s leadership must not squander the opportunities afforded them by the current climate. Rather, it must now initiate new strategies, including a pathway toward ending the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The correct response to a more favorable political reality is not to sit back and enjoy it. The correct response is to grab on to that reality and run with it toward actualizing one’s goals.
During the Obama administration, there were times when Prime Minister Netanyahu was robbed of the space required for strategic maneuvering. But Barack Obama is no longer in situ. The pressure upon the Prime minister is no longer to rebuff the will of an American President bent upon policies with which he disagreed.
As such, our Prime Minister must now outline policies that are at once strategic, sustainable and in the clear, best, long-term interests of the people of this great country; particularly where the peace process is concerned.
Earlier this year, during their first White House press conference, both the Israeli and American leader distanced themselves from the defunct two state solution. I, for one, am pleased that they did so. Prime Minister Netanyahu must now bring an alternative to his people; and move deliberately toward it.
Let us reject the mantra the ‘the two state solution is the only solution.’
There are alternatives available.
The State of Israel exists to ensure that the Jewish people are in command of their own destiny. Our leaders must take command of our strategy.
If we do not do so, future generations will feel far greater regret recalling the opportunities we missed with Trump that came and passed us by, than the opportunities we missed with Obama that sadly never arose.
The current reality is one that I prefer. It may yet change. Our leaders must act boldly while it lasts.
Notice: The views expressed above do not represent the views of the IDF, the Foreign Ministry of the State of Israel or any third party. They are reflective solely of the views of the author.