Trump and Israel — Time to Evaluate
Much has been happening in the six weeks since President Donald Trump took office – enough information to begin to allow a realistic analysis regarding the new president vis-a-vis Israel.
The first actions by Trump were taken even before he became president. It was during the transition period when UN resolution 2334 was being submitted by Egypt, one which identified the lands captured by Israel in self-defense during the 1967 Six Day War as “occupied Palestinian Arab land.” It is noteworthy to understand that this territory includes the Old City of Jerusalem, containing the holiest sites in Judaism – the Temple Mount, the Western Wall, and the oldest Jewish cemetery, the Mount of Olives. And, of course, there are other, perhaps less “notable” Jewish places in Jerusalem as well. The territory mentioned by the UN also included Hebron, home to the burial sites of the forefathers and matriarchs of the Jewish people. The original purchase of land is recorded in the Bible. The UN resolution further also identified the location of Rachel’s Tomb as part of Palestinian Arab land. The resolution effectively rewrites history as it was known for two millennia. Or more.
When it became apparent that President Obama, as lame duck, was not going to veto the resolution, President-elect Trump spoke to President Abdel el-Sisi of Egypt who agreed to withdraw his submission of the resolution. Four other countries subsequently submitted the resolution and Trump publicly called for Obama to veto the resolution. Instead, the outgoing president instructed his team to abstain on the vote despite being aware of overwhelming bipartisan majorities in Congress calling on him to veto any such resolutions. As a consequence, Obama received strong bipartisan criticism – even from the likes of Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer for his failure to exercise the veto.
In the aftermath, Trump spoke to British Prime Minister Theresa May, who subsequently criticized the speech of Secretary of State John Kerry that sought to justify the abstention. The criticism by May was followed up by a British objection to any strongly negative resolution from the Conference in Paris. As a result the Paris resolution was not nearly as damaging as first feared. Nevertheless, this statement put out at the conference attended by 70 nations was objected to by Britain. In other words, Britain moved from helping draft (and supporting) UN resolution 2334 to opposing a milder statement by the Paris Conference, because of the Trump influence. Prime Minister May, it seems, has now already become the best friend Israel has ever had in Britain. Further, she even made strong statements against harassment of Jews on college campuses in Britain, fast-tracking that nation into becoming one of Israel’s best friends in the world.
A little noticed but extraordinarily important action by Trump was his notification to the Palestinian Authority of severe repercussions if it turns to the International Criminal Court against Israel. The specifics of the threat apparently warn of an end of US aid to the PA and the closing of their diplomatic offices in D.C. The PA spokesman, Saeb Erakat, decried this threat recalling that the PA had put in place, for four years already, a strategy to go to the criminal court against Israel. It is obvious that the Trump Administration response is a more appropriate one to check their design to turn to international forums. As a matter of fact, the statements and actions of UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, specifically, that the attacks on Israel will no longer be accepted in the UN, is a very welcome change. Haley has, in a short time, become a tremendous friend to Israel, even meeting with the Goldin family to see if she can help obtain their son’s body back from Gaza. Goldin’s son, Hadar, was killed when Hamas violated a ceasefire in Gaza (anyone surprised?) ignoring the efforts of the UN and Secretary Kerry.
One of President Trump’s important actions as it relates to Israel was his naming David Friedman as his designated ambassador to Israel. In the announcement, Friedman noted that he expects to take his post in Jerusalem, rather than in Tel Aviv. To wit, Trump emphasized that his policy with Israel will be a relationship marked by ‘no daylight’ with Israel. He spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu shortly after entering office and subsequently had a very warm meeting together. In contrast, President Obama famously called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) as his first call to a foreign leader and told American Jewish leaders at his first meeting with them that he preferred a policy of daylight with Israel. Obama further shocked Jewish leaders suggesting that Abbas wanted peace but questioned whether Israel really wanted peace. Trump has clearly demonstrated that he does not share this opinion.
Israel has made several settlement announcements and instead of the usual harsh condemnation by Obama calling them illegitimate, and blatantly implying they are illegal, no such announcement came from his successor. Eventually, Trump sent out a nuanced statement that did not describe them as illegal or illegitimate, but that they would be the subject of further discussions with Netanyahu. Notwithstanding the adjusted interpretation, this statement reflects a better view of settlements then all previous presidents – who mainly condemned them. How this is resolved, remains to be seen. At least initially it appears that the Trump Administration will not condemn Israel publicly like previous presidents and will rightly break from the false view that settlements somehow create an obstacle to peace. They do not. Further, the Palestinian Arab antagonism to the right of Jews being able to live anywhere – which has led to the opposition to settlements by previous administrations – has always bothered many in the Jewish community as acquiescing to the anti-Jewish attitudes of the Palestinian Authority. The overall goal of the PA has never wavered from another Arab state, free of Jews. In reality, it is quite transparently, worse. It is not just having a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria that is Judenrein, but indeed to eradicate the state of Israel. The newly established ‘Palestine’ would then replace the State of Israel. How else can one explain the PA extolling murderers of Jews as heroes and subsidizing terrorism with generous financial rewards. The ADL found that 90% of Palestinian Arabs held anti-Semitic views, the highest percentage in the world, which is not surprising when one observes their television shows and school textbooks, both which spew unrestrained hatred of Jews.
Moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem has been a promise made by four successive US presidents – Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama – and, as evidenced by the famous public insertion in the Democratic Platform in 2012. None ever discussed it at length after being elected president, and all showed no intention of keeping this promise. President Trump has indicated his desire to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the embassy as promised. Abbas and the PA has led a campaign against this with their spokesman Saeb Erakat threatening Palestinian violence in response. Israel has been uniformly clear, including the head of one of the leading opposition parties, Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid, that Israel is not concerned about these threats and wants the embassy moved to Jerusalem. Trump has delayed the decision and is not discussing it publicly, but there exists the hope that he will follow through on this promise even if he does it more quietly. The importance and impact of his fulfilling this promise of moving the embassy and recognizing the reality that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital is hugely significant. Likely, only Trump would have the courage to do what he feels is right and will not be intimidated by outrageous threats.
On another front, the Islamic Republic of Iran has been a major source of concern for Israel, both for its attempts to obtain nuclear weapons and its support for terrorism. Clearly, the Trump Administration has taken a much stronger tone against Iran and has put in place more sanctions. The new sanctions placed against Iran in response to their ballistic missile tests were a good step forward. Clearly, there is evidence that the new president is very wary of Iran and will not ignore the violations of the nuclear agreement.
Trump did make a mistake on not mentioning Jews in the official statement on International Holocaust Day and subsequently exacerbated the problem by not admitting to the mistake, or oversight. The Trump team was further slow to condemn the anti-Semitic attacks partly because Trump wrongly let the false allegations against him (implying that he or his supporters were responsible for the attacks) affect his reaction to the attacks. Initially his reaction was more of one saying he was not responsible for the attacks then a basic condemnation of the attacks. Importantly, Trump corrected the apparent error by using his biggest forum in his joint address to Congress to clearly condemn and repudiate the anti-Semitic attacks. Moreover VP Mike Pence’s visit to the site of the vandalism of the Jewish cemetery in St. Louis dramatically helped show the Jewish community of a caring administration. The fact that the arrest of the culprit behind some of the bomb threats was someone who was actually virulently anti-Trump, debunked the myth that these attacks were apparently tied to supporters of Trump. It was exposed as a terrible canard, something the American media was quick to ignore.
There are three steps that President Trump can make that will not only help Israel but could lead to a significant increase in his support with the Jewish community. These steps are following through on his promise to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital while moving the embassy to Jerusalem – an action unlikely to be reversed by any future administration. Recognize Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, another action that is will help Israel’s security and is likely irreversible. A third step is allowing Jonathan Pollard to go to Israel after spending thirty years in US prisons, and one year complying with onerous parole conditions. These unprecedented demands on Pollard include wearing a GPS bracelet, having a 7pm curfew on most nights and restricting his travels to a small geographic area. The Pollard parole conditions are a major irritant to the Jewish community and allowing him to go to Israel will be positively remembered by both Israel and the U.S. Jewish community. All of the above mentioned steps will be met with an overwhelmingly positive response by Israel and the US Jewish community, and to be sure, are the right things to do.
It is very early in the Trump Administration. But the signs for Israel are clearly very positive. President Trump made a campaign promise that he would be the best friend Israel ever would have in the White House. He has made important steps towards accomplishing this goal already. If he continues on this path, not only will Israel be more secure, but Trump will likely see a massive improvement in the support he receives from the Jewish community.