Even as US President Donald Trump holds out hope that his allegations of election fraud might even keep him in office for a second term, and is said to be preventing efforts to work with Joe Biden’s transition team, the current administration has stepped up coordination with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu amid an acknowledgement that Trump will, in fact, be leaving the presidency on January 20.
The Trump-Netanyahu relationship has been so close that stepped-up contacts are not in themselves an especially dramatic development. However, according to Israeli and US administration sources, there is no mistaking the extra time now being spent to ensure that during this transition period, the achievements of the past four years involving Jerusalem and Washington will be enshrined to the extent possible by the time Mr. Biden would take office.
The contacts were stepped up even before the November 3 election, amid a “nagging feeling” that Mr. Trump would not win re-election, says a source close to Mr. Netanyahu.
The Abraham Accords were themselves given an “additional sense of urgency,” says an administration official.
“Had Mr. Trump won the election, we’d have at least one more country already announcing that they were adding their name to these agreements with Israel, together with the UAE, Bahrain, and Sudan,” says a member of the American team involved in the process.
“However, now there is a feeling of hesitancy on their part; is it the wrong thing to do to work with Mr. Trump even as Mr. Biden prepares to enter the White House? We’re trying to persuade them that it’s the right thing,” says the US official.
The current US-Israel contacts are taking place largely without the direct participation of Mr. Trump, according to American and Israeli sources.
At the helm, for the most part, is said to be senior adviser Jared Kushner, who reportedly has been one of the voices trying to convince his father-in-law to concede defeat and recognize Mr. Biden as the president-elect.
Mr. Netanyahu, for his part, is “actively overseeing” the contacts from the Israeli side, according to officials from both countries.
Aside from the peace efforts, subjects have included Iran, amid concern that the new US president will return to the 2015 nuclear agreement without making “necessary, substantial changes,” says a top official in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office.
Sources on both sides said that it was too “sensitive” to discuss what action was being taken or considered regarding the Iranian issue.
Another issue at the center of the transition talks between the US and Israeli teams is said to be “further solidifying” the American recognition of the “Jewish people’s historic connection to Judea and Samaria.”
The reported plan of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to visit the area in the coming days is a product of these post-election US-Israel talks, according to officials on both sides.
The Israeli decision to publish a tender for construction in Givat Hamatos, located in a part of Jerusalem captured in the 1967 war, was also a “natural result” of the ongoing contacts with the Trump administration, says an Israeli official.
“Let’s just say that we were empowered through our current meetings with the Americans to carry out this move now,” the official adds.
“Look, when Mr. Biden visited Israel as vice president, people were telling Prime Minister Netanyahu that it wasn’t the time to announce new settlement activity,” recalls a Trump aide. “We are now telling the Israeli prime minister, now is the time to announce new construction.”
On most issues, the Trump administration and Netanyahu teams are said to have seen eye-to-eye, “or pretty close to it,” says a top Israeli official.
However, one area of concern, both in the past and now, has been the US president’s moves in Syria.
Amid speculation that Mr. Trump will use his final days in office to pull US military forces out, or at least significantly reduce the American presence, in various international trouble spots, Mr. Netanyahu is trying to ensure that those moves don’t include a pullout from Syria, say multiple sources in Jerusalem and Washington.
The apparent intention of Mr. Pompeo to visit the Golan Heights during his imminent trip to Israel is seen as a “symbolic” way of addressing the Syrian issue, though “we need more than symbolism,” says a top Israeli official.
Pompeo has been “a willing participant” in the US-Israel transition talks, compared to the just-sacked defense secretary Mark Esper who “didn’t find it appropriate,” says a Trump aide.
“Listen,” says a senior official in the Prime Minister’s Office, “we’re not afraid of Joe Biden. We consider him a friend; we really do. He is not Barack Obama. We don’t even consider him guilty by association. But, hey, these past four years have been big. As Mr. Trump might say, they’ve been huge. And until January 20, we want to achieve whatever we can.”