November 20, 2016
“We just had an election and most journalists were shocked! Why? Because they had been reporting from their own bias instead of from reality, and some journalists even said so. But this isn’t just about elections: it happens in many areas, including Israel and the Palestinians.” (HonestReporting)
Trump presidency means new better era in U.S.-Israel relations as well new scenarios in Mid East conflicts. U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, his transition team and his advisors are already planning new U.S. foreign policy approach which probably will include new visio(s) for solutions and new roadmap towards them. Same time the main players, especially Israel, are preparing their answer to this new ‘Trumpoportunity’.
There has been discussions whether U.S. President Obama will make a final intervention in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before he leaves office. This could include giving a speech on parameters for a peace agreement between Israeli and the Palestinians, or by the U.S. supporting a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements. Trump team warned Obama not to make any Lame-Duck major moves on foreign policy, such as a potential Israeli-Palestinian peace push based on U.S. drafted parameters.
New developments in Israeli-Palestinian conflict will probably been supported via wider geopolitical shift during Trump presidency. Especially one can wait more pragmatic approach in U.S.-Russia relations. While United States has been gradually retreating from the Middle East and Russia has been filling this vacuum a new deal is possible which of course can have its political spin-offs or even spill-over effects besides Mid-East also in Europe.
Trump & Israel
“Israel is the one true democracy and defender of human rights in the Middle East and a beacon of hope to countless people,” (Donald Trump)
Already in 2013, before becoming a politician, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump stated support for Israel and admiration for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.Then famous as a billionaire and entrepreneur, Trump took part in a video showing his support for Netanyahu and the Likud party ahead of Israel’s 2013 general election. In an unprecedented move, the U.S. billionaire and world-renowned entrepreneur, Mr. Donald Trump, took part in a video showing his support for the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu and The Likud Party in general elections in Israel next week: “Vote for Benjamin, terrific guy, terrific leader, great for Israel.”
Donald Trump has been investing flamboyantly also in the Arab world, but he’s never done a deal in Israel. In 2006 the deal was close as land on the border of Tel Aviv really had been bought for a Trump Tower in Israel.. The plan was to build a 70-story skyscraper bearing the Trump brand, it was to have been the tallest building in Israel. By 2007, the project was dead. Lesser-known stabs at business in Israel that went nowhere include the Trump Hotel extravaganza in Netanya and the Trump Golf Course in Ashkelon.
Trump, for one, has made it very clear he will support Israel and its preferences. A post-election statement by Trump’s advisers on Israel said, “A two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians appears impossible as long as the Palestinians are unwilling to renounce violence against Israel or recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.” Israel staunchly opposes any move by Obama to secure a U.N. Security Council resolution seen as hostile to Israeli interests — especially if he asked other world powers to embrace U.S.-drafted parameters for a two-state solution. Trump team warned Obama not to make any Lame-Duck major moves on foreign policy, such as a potential Israeli-Palestinian peace push based on US drafted parameters. Source: The Politico
Israel and the US recently signed a new ten-year Memorandum of Understanding on defence aid which constitutes a renewal of America’s commitment to Israel’s security and a further fortification of Israel’s qualitative military edge.
During election campaign there was charges that Trump – or his some of his supporters – is flirting with Jew-hatred. However New York Times reporter Jonathan Weisman felt compelled to note that, “Trump has a son-in-law who is an Orthodox Jew, and a daughter [Ivanka] who converted to her husband’s religion. Mr. Trump has bragged about his Jewish grandchildren.”
Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian Authority conflict would be “the ultimate deal,” US President-elect Donald Trump told Wall Street Journal, adding that, as a master dealmaker, he relishes the challenge. “I’d like to do…the deal that can’t be made. And do it for humanity’s sake,” Source: Behindthenews
Israel’s aims with Trump
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already been invited by Trump to the White House at the earliest opportunity. Netanyahu called Trump “a true friend of the State of Israel. We will work together to advance the security, stability and peace in our region.”
PM Netanyahu has already started preparing his first meeting with President-elect Donald Trump – . a meeting that could take place at the end of March 2017 when the prime minister speaks at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference.
According Al-Monitor a senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official dealing with Israel-US relations on condition of anonymity that Netanyahu is expected to raise three major issues in his first meeting with Trump:
First, Netanyahu wishes to remove the resolution of the Palestinian issue from the list of elements necessary for regional stability and convince the new president that fundamentalist terror is the root problem of the region. Netanyahu will argue that the Islamic State, Hezbollah and Hamas are the real enemies of both Israel and pragmatic Arab countries. Thus, the region should align around the battle against Iranian-sponsored terror, not the Palestinian statehood issue.
The second topic for Netanyahu’s meeting with Trump would be, according to the Israeli side, the Iran deal. The prime minister intends to persuade the new president to cooperate closely with Israel on Iranian compliance with the agreement.
Netanyahu’s third issue would be preventing American and international pressure on Israel on settlement construction, public assurances that the United States will veto any U.N. Security Council resolution critical of Israel and the prime minister wants the new administration to foil any EU member state initiative on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, such as the French initiative on a two-state solution.
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman made on 16th Nov. 2016 a statement, suggesting Israel must cool its heels over Trump’s election and approach him with modest proposals regarding settlement construction. Speaking to political reporters Liberman said, “If we receive confirmation of the Bush-Sharon understandings, we should grab it with both hands.” The Bush-Sharon understandings recognized the need for construction to support the growth of the existing population in Judea and Samaria inside the settlement blocks — but no launching of new settlements.
Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer told media in New York City on 17th Nov. 2016 that there’s “no doubt” President-elect Donald Trump is a “true friend of Israel.” He added that also “Vice-President-elect Mike Pence was one of Israel’s “greatest friends” during his decade in Congress, and “one of the most pro-Israel governors in the country.” Dermer said Israel looks forward to “working with the Trump administration, with all of the members of the Trump administration, including Steve Bannon, and making the U.S.-Israel alliance stronger than ever.” [Bannon, Trump’s special adviser, the former CEO of Breitbart News, who gave considerable website space to the alt-right, is claimed to be anti-Semite, Bannon himself says he is a Zionist].
Israel Foreign ministry’s secret memo “The Trump Administration — Preliminary Comments” attempts to determine the future president’s foreign policy, with special attention to China, Russia and Europe, and domestic policies. The main message of the paper, which represents the position of the ministry’s professional echelons, is that the Trump administration is expected to conduct an isolationist policy. The researchers say that at the start of his term, Trump will try to differentiate himself from the foreign policy of President Barack Obama, but he could be expected subsequently to adopt Obama’s belief that the United States must stop trying to be the world’s policeman. The report concludes that: “Trump does not consider the Middle East to be a ‘wise investment,’ and is likely to strive to limit his involvement in the region. The peace process is not a top priority for the new administration.” (Source e.g: Forward )
A Murky Picture in the Middle East by Stratfor
Stratfor has published its view about possible developments in Israel’s neighbourhood during Trump presidency. Following an abstract:
Trump promised throughout his campaign a tough fight against Islamist extremism at home and abroad — and a harder stance on combating the Islamic State in particular. When Trump takes over as commander-in-chief in January, military operations in Iraq and Syria to combat the Islamic State core will be well underway, particularly in Iraq. U.S. support for Kurdish militias will likely continue, pushing Turkey further away from the United States, but Turkey is already on a unilateral path to deepen its footprint in northern Syria and Iraq.
The biggest shift on the battlefield would stem from a U.S.-Russia negotiation where the United States agrees to reduce aid for Syrian rebels. (Trump has already expressed doubts on the policy of supporting rebels who could be characterized as Islamist extremists.) This would bolster the positions of Syrian President Bashar al Assad and Iran, which would greatly unnerve the Sunni bloc led by Turkey and Saudi Arabia. A pullback of U.S. support for Syrian rebels would spur Turkey and Saudi Arabia to step up their involvement, thereby intensifying the broader ethno-sectarian struggle with Iran.
Trump’s victory also raises questions about Iran’s own presidential election next May and the fate of the nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Trump is unlikely to throw out the deal outright. Iran, despite its political divisions, broadly agrees on the need to avoid an escalation with the United States and bring in much-needed investment while it deals with its other proxy wars in the region. Tehran will continue to telegraph to the international community how it is fully adhering to the International Atomic Energy Agency guidelines. It will also appeal to European signatories to the nuclear deal to try to ensure that the United States does not pull out of the agreement or attempt to revive sanctions.
Hard-line opponents of President Hassan Rouhani have used ballistic missile testing and harassment of U.S. vessels to assert Iran’s military power and differentiate their camp from the moderates. But under a Trump presidency and Republican Congress, any infraction of the JCPOA or aggression outside of the nuclear deal has the potential to lead to additional sanctions. Iran would interpret this as a violation of its overall understanding with the United States on backing off sanctions, applying heavy stress to the deal. Even if the United States does not immediately jeopardize the JCPOA, it is likely that European investors will move cautiously forward with investments into Iran’s financial system because a Trump-led administration will be far less accommodative to Iran’s concerns or potential infractions.
Trump’s new foreign policy approach could be described as “U.S. Interests First Approach” which is based on the United States making ‘good deals’ and getting “paid back” for protection or intervention abroad. This would end the U.S. role as world’s policeman, a step away from the familiar American liberal interventionist policy. As Trump has regularly called for letting Putin, Assad and ISIS fight it out in Syria some even claim that Trump will outsource Middle East policy to Putin.
Trump has been roundly criticized for his lack of foreign policy knowhow. Trump regularly cites Israeli policies which could be replicable for the United States; such as “the [security/separation] wall” in Israel as an example of why the United States should build a wall with Mexico, or “taking out the families of terrorists,” one long step further from the Israeli policy of demolishing terrorists’ homes.
Jason Greenblatt-adviser with kippah at work
One of President-elect Donald Trump’s senior level advisors is Jason Dov Greenblatt, who will most likely be appointed as the US envoy to the Middle East; he probably will rewrite a foreign policy differing from that of U.S. President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. Greenblatt, currently works for Trump as a real estate attorney. Trump has identified Greenblatt as one of two Jewish lawyers who would be his top Israel advisers; the other is bankruptcy expert David M. Friedman of the Kasowitz law firm.
Greenblatt, 49, has an unusual resume for a prospective presidential adviser on Middle East affairs. An Orthodox Jew has worked for Trump for the last 19 years dealing exclusively with real estate and company matters. His titles are executive vice president and chief legal officer. He has self-published three travel books, one about a family trip to Israel, and runs a parenting blog, InspireConversation.com.
Greenblatt was interviewed e.g. in IDF Radio explaining Trump’s stances here some key notes (Source: BICOM ):
Trump believes that “peace must come from the parties” and if the US dictates an agreement it might be one that “breaks apart the next day.” “He is not going to impose any solution on Israel.”
Mr. Trump does not view the settlements [Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria] as being an obstacle for peace. The two sides are going to have to decide how to deal with that region, but it’s certainly not Mr. Trump’s view that settlement activity should be condemned and that it’s an obstacle for peace – because it is not the obstacle for peace. I think he would show Gaza as proof of that. In an interview with The Associated Press in December 2015, Trump was asked whether Israel should stop building in Judea and Samaria, Trump responded, “No… I think Israel should have – they really have to keep going. They have to keep moving forward.”
Trump will follow through on his pledge to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which would mark a departure from Washington’s long-term policy.
David Friedman, Walid Phares and Muchael Flynn reverse the negative policy trends
“Mike Flynn is a straight shooter and a no-bullshit kind of guy. And that’s exactly what we need in terms of senior leaders giving advice to the national leadership.” (David Deptula)
Senior Trump adviser David Friedman said a Trump administration would not “put its finger on the scale and try to force Israel into a particular outcome, but rather will support Israel in reaching its own conclusion about how to best achieve peace with its neighbors.” According The Algemeiner Friedman stated e.g. following:
We trust Israel. We think it is doing an excellent job of balancing its respect for human rights and its security needs in a very difficult neighborhood. Israel is a partner with the US in the global war against terrorism. And we want our partner to be attendant to that task and not distracted by foreign countries telling it what to do. That’s really the overall premise of the policy — to respect Israel as a partner, and not to unduly influence its decisions.
Walid Phares, a Trump top foreign policy adviser, told BBC Radio on Thursday [10th Nov. 2016] that an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is a Trump top agenda item. “He is ready and he will immediately move to try and solve the problem between Palestinian and Israelis,” Phares said. “He told me personally that, as the author of ‘The Art of the Deal,’ it’s not going to be impossible for him to broker a deal between the Israelis and Palestinians. At least he’s going to go in that direction and not waste eight years — four years for now — not doing something for the Palestinians and Israelis.” According to an interview with the pro-Egyptian government news website, Youm7, Walid Phares said on 9th Nov. 2016 that Trump would pass legislation to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a “terrorist group”. The US House Judiciary Committee in February approved legislation calling on the State Department to designate the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as a foreign terrorist organisation. The Senate has referred a partner bill to its foreign relations committee.
Trump’s new security advisor is retired a three-star General Michael Flynn. Flynn deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and served as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency from spring 2012 to fall 2014 to where he was named and sacked by Obama administration. Having been a lifelong Democrat, he anyway was at Donald Trump’s side for months during the presidential campaign. Flynn built a reputation in the Army as an astute intelligence professional and a straight talker. He retired in 2014 and has been a fierce critic of President Barack Obama’s White House and Pentagon, taking issue with the administration’s approach to global affairs and fighting Islamic State militants. Flynn, described also as a Zionist Christian, is a harsh critic of Muslim extremism and the religion itself and a staunch ally of the Zionist entity. He is an active member of several Israeli advocacy groups such as CFR, ADL, AIPAC, WINEP, etc.
The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center has made their first analysis about initial Palestinian reactions; here some highlights:
- The remarks of senior figures in the Palestinian Authority (PA), hinted at concern over a greater pro-Israeli bias in the new American administration, based on statements made by Trump during the campaign. Their worst to concerns are that the new president will abandon the two state solution, support construction in the settlements, and move the United States embassy from Tel Aviv Jerusalem.
- Azzam al-Ahmed, a member of Fatah’s Central Committee, said that if Hillary Clinton had been elected she would have been no better than Trump because the Palestinians’ bitter experience had shown that when she was secretary of state no progress had been made in the Palestinian cause
- Riyad Mansour, permanent Palestinian observer to the U.N. He threatened president-elect Trump, saying the Palestinians had an arsenal of diplomatic weapons in the UN. He warned that if Trump moved the United States embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the Palestinians would “make his life miserable” in the UN agencies.
- Hamas spokesmen, in the meantime, were skeptical about the chances for a change in the United States’ traditional tendency towards pro-Israeli policies in the wake of Trump’s victory.
Jibril Rajoub, a senior leader in Fatah, the Palestinian Authority’s ruling party, attacked both Trump and Obama as Zionists and racists, but with different tactics.
My conclusions: Trumportunity
The cases of Syria and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict indicate that the United States could be gradually retreating from the Middle East, Russia is now filling this vacuum. In Syria Moscow and Jerusalem have agreed to coordinate their actions in Syria as well as share intelligence. Intelligence-sharing also greatly benefits Moscow, which receives more balanced intelligence, allowing it to put into perspective the kind of information provided by its allies from the Baghdad coordination center. With Israeli-Palestinian conflict Kremlin is ready to meditiate and has proposed to host Netanyahu and Abbas in Moscow for direct talks, to which both reportedly have agreed.
Based on main issues during U.S. elections – e.g. have strong isolationist tendencies – it could be predicting the President-elect Donald Trump will watch the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the sidelines. Based on latest statements of his advisers I conclude that the opposite scenario is more realistic.
The imaginable terms of a settlement with Two-state solution were embodied in the 2000 ‘Clinton Parameters’ or the deal proposed to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas by then-prime minister Ehud Olmert in 2008. The current Israeli government is unlikely to offer as much (for example, shared sovereignty over Jerusalem) and in any event, Abbas spurned Olmert’s offer. It is of significance to note that Trump’s policy is diametrically opposed to the one adopted by President Barack Obama and his administration, which has for example repeatedly condemned Israel for its presence in Judea and Samaria and even for its approval of plans for further building. Based on these factors the Trump’s new foreign policy approach might in my opinion have i.a. following outcome:
- Trump and his top Mid-East advisors have good personal relationship with Israel and pro-Israel attitude which will develop US-Israel relationship further and sure to better level than during Obama administration
- Trump probably will develop pragmatic relationship with Russia and even make a deal with Putin to stabilize the (Great) Middle East and so there is no need to increase US ‘boots on the ground’ in region
- Israel will be the main stabilizing actor in Mid-East so blocking Islamist Jihad as well decreasing refugee crisis which both factors serve Trump’s election campaign goals.
- Trump is ready to find solutions ‘outside of the box’ which means new approach towards ‘Two-State-Solution’ and its roadmap – or better to say dumping them .
- As pragmatic politician Trump might well understand possible Israeli unilateral solutions.
- Israeli border security systems – especially the new ones on Gaza border – are second to no one and U.S. might use this experience on Mexican border if Trump implements his promises to block illegal immigration.
- Extend and expand defence cooperation. “Enhance Israel’s sense of security and confidence in the United States by committing to expanded missile defense, anti-tunnel, and cybersecurity cooperation under the terms of the September 2016 long-term defense assistance Memorandum of Understanding.”
My bottom line: Trump’s presidency will usher in a new, better era in US-Israel relations – Tr(i)ump(h) for Israel!
Article first appeared in Conflicts By Ari Rusila