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ISRAEL AWAITS TWO SAVIORS

President Trump speaking at his inauguration ceremony

Israel's Right wing fervently hopes and believes US President Donald Trump will reverse America's former policy that opposed settlement building in the West Bank. From Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu on down, the Right wingers also trust the US will serve as a bulwark to anti-Israel moves at the UN and in other international forums. A first indicator will be if Trump keeps his campaign pledge to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in the face of bitter Palestinian and Muslim threats. But his credibility is at stake. Could this mean he will, as reported, suffice with some half-measure like moving the Ambassador's official residence to Jerusalem, while the embassy would remain in Tel Aviv?

Trump's Inauguration address focused on his 'America First' theme and bringing back home American jobs. If so, this might trigger a global trade war. Or then again, will Trump's bark prove to be worse than his bite?

On Friday evening, Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu rushed off his best wishes to Trump:

       'Congratulations to my friend President Trump. I look forward to working closely with you to make the alliance between Israel and America stronger than ever. Shabbat Shalom'.

Opposition Leader Yitzhak Herzog of Zionist Union-Labor also congratulated the new U.S. leader with this added emphasis:

       'We seek to reach the much coveted peace with our neighbor, the Palestinians, during your term... I have no doubt you will address this with wisdom, responsibility and determination'.

'We seek to reach the much coveted peace with our neighbor, the Palestinians, during your term... I have no doubt you will address this with wisdom, responsibility and determination'.

On the Palestinian side, President Mahmoud Abbas congratulated Trump repeating that he anticipates working with him for peace, security and stability. One of his top advisers, Saeb Erekat, hoped Trump would implement the two-state solution. But the only problem is that in the past, Erekat has declared 'Never is a thousand years will we accept a Jewish state!'

Hitting the ground running, Trump issued his first statement with the White House hash-tag: the US will develop a 'state-of-the-art' missile defense to protect America from possible nuclear attacks from North Korea and Iran. During the election campaign Trump blasted Obama's nuclear deal with Tehran and threatened to 'rip it up'. For its part, Iran recently conducted tests of long range missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Although the nuclear accord does not deal with missile tests, other UN resolutions do - they ban Iran from conducting such tests. In any case, Trump is preparing a worst case scenario for Iran. On this score, he will have a very close partner in Israel, which has successfully conducted the latest Arrow 3 missile interceptor - it scored a bull's eye by hitting a target out in space! This is a joint project with the U.S. and is obviously designed to cope with an Iranian nuclear threat. On hand was Brig-Gen. William Coley of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency and David Ivry, President of Boeing in Israel.

In any case, on January 20th the Yisrael Hayom freebie newspaper carried a banner headline from its correspondent standing alongside Trump and quoting the new President as saying 'I won't forget what I promised about Jerusalem!' So will Trump be the Right wing's savior after Bibi's foreign policy isolated Israel? And to top it off the PM is facing two police investigations for fraud? Most pundits do not believe the Israeli-Palestinians conflict will be all that high on Trump's agenda. In fact, Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett and Likud cabinet ministers are champing at the bit preparing to annex parts of the West Bank starting with the town of Maale Adumim outside of Jerusalem on the West Bank. How will the new U.S. Administration react to such an electrifying step?

It looks as if Trump's foreign policy agenda will zero in on other world issues. It may be he is gearing up take on China - Trump has repeatedly railed at America's huge trade deficit with China and plans on doing something dramatic about it. Nor does Trump believe that Russia today poses a threat to American interests in the Middle East, where America no longer relies on Arab oil. Trump has also signaled that Western Europe and NATO may also be in his sights, referring to the need for the Europeans to shoulder a much bigger share of their own defense expenditures - 'free-loaders' was a term he has used. Germany's Vice Chancellor obviously had this in mind when he said, 'My country must prepare for a difficult time after Trump's inauguration'.

Bibi is also being investigated by police for trying to 'fix' what would be an illegal deal between two newspapers that would serve his political needs.

Coming back to the Israeli scene: The Right wing is nearly ecstatic while the Center-Left has adopted a more 'wait and see' approach. But two domestic factors are rattling Israel's domestic politics. First are the shocking disclosures about the lavish lifestyle of the Netanyahu couple and even their son Yair at the expense of fat-cat pals. Bibi is also being investigated by police for trying to 'fix' what would be an illegal deal between two newspapers that would serve his political needs. But although both cases have raised an unholy stink, it is still not clear if there's sufficient evidence to prosecute the PM. The Attorney has hinted at this by saying the evidence required to indict Bibi needs to be more clear cut than that required to launch an investigation. So despite the shocking revelations, it may still amount to no more than one of those windy rainstorms that inundate Jerusalem for a day or two before suddenly the sky turns bright blue and the gorgeous sunshine returns to this city.

The problem is Israel has already 'been there, done that!' - in 2005 Arik Sharon unilaterally evacuated all Israeli settlements from Gaza and withdrew all IDF forces, except for a naval blockade in the Mediterranean to prevent Hamas from smuggling in missiles. But rather than thanking Israel, keeping the peace and going on to negotiate on the West Bank, the Palestinians did the opposite. They turned Gaza, with the aid of Iran, into a launch pad for firing rockets into Israel.

Yair Lapid

In any case, the current Far Right coalition would never agree to a unilateral pullout from the West Bank and probably not even a negotiated withdrawal. For the sake of argument, could a Center-Left wing government start the ball rolling? The most recent opinion polls indicated Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid has taken a slight lead over Bibi. Nevertheless, the Far Right lead by Netanyahu could still form a cabinet with the Haredim, if an election were held today. The reason for this is a majority of Mizrachi Jews tend to vote Likud because of its tough stand toward the Palestinian issue and also because of past grievances against the Ashkenazi Jews primarily in Labor. Therefore it makes sense for Labor to elect a party leader who could attract more Mizrachi voters.

A growing number of Left wingers think newcomer Avi Gabai could be their savior. Gabai was born in Jerusalem to a poor family, served in the IDF intelligence Corps before going on to earn two degrees in economics. He turned into a top-flight executive winding up as CEO of the big communications company Bezeq. After leaving his lucrative private career to enter politics, he joined the Kulanu party of Moshe Kahlon. Realizing his potential, Kahlon backed him for Environment Minister. But Gabai quit the cabinet after opposing the first scandalous gas deal and after Netanyahu fired Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon. Gabai has proven he's not only smart but also has guts and integrity. Obviously he also supports the two state solution if he has now joined Labor. In his first major TV interview, Gabai impressed a lot of viewers - three thousand joined the Labor party to support him. The question is whether he can propel his positive image into a dynamic political persona who can take on someone like Bibi. That is if the PM survives his current police investigations.




 

David Essing

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