Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won a historic fifth term last month, and Donald Trump was one of the biggest donors to his campaign.
Historically, Israel prime ministers and American presidents meddle in each other’s elections, on one side or the other, but none can match Trump’s contributions.
The President granted Bibi’s wishes and abrogated the Iran nuclear deal, recognized Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, relocated the American embassy to the western sector of the city, said “occupied territories” are now “disputed territories,” acknowledged Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, opened the door to annexation of West Bank and put Iranian Revolutionary Guards on the foreign terrorist list.
It didn’t stop with the election, either. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Senate testimony and interviews refused to endorse the two-state solution, which Bibi has rejected, or express any opposition to annexation of all or parts of West Bank.
Trump asked for nothing in return. So far. We may find out the price if and when the administration finally releases it long delayed plan for the deal of the century and Middle East peace.
Trump is a transactional president. He is unencumbered by ideology and integrity, and loyalty is a one-way street for him. It’s all about what is best for Trump. Bibi should know that because they are similar in so many ways, and he should expect to return the favors.
Trump won’t be shy about collecting on the IOU. What will he expect? Complete loyalty, to begin with. It is what he demands from everyone.
We may see how that plays out when the Trump peace plan is unveiled; the economic version is due shortly but no date has been set for the more controversial and difficult political aspects.
The economic proposals are said to look like they were dictated by Netanyahu himself, according to some who’ve been briefed. The concept is to offer enough economic incentives that the Palestinians will agree to put off the fundamental issues of borders, security, sovereignty, refugees and Jerusalem.
The Palestinians and most Arab leaders have declared that a non-starter.
Netanyahu has to be careful in his response to the Trump plan. He can’t afford to leave fingerprints when he tries to choke the life out of it. He wants the Palestinians to do that for him, and history shows they’re very likely to oblige.
Trump and Netanyahu are counting on the rich Gulf Arab sheiks being more worried about the threat from Iran than the plight of the Palestinians. To that end Trump is ready to bypass Congress and sell billions of dollars in advanced weapons to the Saudis and UAE, apparently with the silent blessing of Bibi.
Trade is Trump’s issue, not territory, unless he can put an eponymous golf course or high-rise building on it, not a Palestinian state . He wants to make sure the rich Arabs buy American weapons and that Israel limits its tech trade with China.
Bibi already won the Trump lottery. He got Jerusalem, the Golan, the new embassy and tacit U.S. approval to start annexing the West Bank.
In return, Trump isn’t asking Bibi to make peace with the Palestinians. He wants Bibi to do for him what he just did for the prime minister’s reelection.
The president wants the PM to mobilize his American friends and followers to help reelect Trump next year.
Trump will expect him to keep saying this president is the greatest friend of Israel ever in the White House and to deliver that message to evangelicals, religious and conservative Jewish voters, neocons and Bibi’s own cadre of deep pocket donors.
One place Bibi’s message is unlikely to resonate is among a large majority of American Jews, who voted 71% against Trump in 2016 and are likely to do so again next year.
The Bibi-Donald bromance is all about looking out for number one. In the end, each man’s loyalty is to himself. “Bibi was Trump before there was Trump, always in a mode of solidifying and advancing his core base but not looking to be a unifying symbol of the state,” says David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
There’s more they have in common: shaped by overbearing fathers, overriding ambition and enormous egos, enmeshed in multiple scandals, thrice married confessed adulterers and hoping that attorneys general they appointed will keep them out of jail.