Israel is split – The Right is jubilant whereas the Center-Left worries that the election of President Trump will spur the Netanyahu government to build new settlements on the West Bank. There is no question that Netanyahu will be under immense pressure from the far Right to do so. In heralding the Trump victory, Cabinet Minister Naftali Bennett leader of the Far Right ‘Jewish Home’ party declared ‘The two-state solution is finished! It is now in our hands to change the course of Israel – to take Israel out of the Oslo perception of a Palestinian state, which has only brought us conflict and bloodshed!’
In Jerusalem, the chairman of the local planning committee at City Hall has announced he will present plans to build 7,000 housing units in territory across the old 1967 line. The fire-brand called Meir Turgeman told Israel Radio that Prime Minister Netanyahu himself froze the plans for one reason or another due to pressure from the Obama administration. However Turgeman added now that Trump has been elected, Netanyahu will have no excuse to intervene. Though, the building plans must first be approved by the Israeli cabinet before the bulldozers start rolling.
Netanyahu who steered clear of expressing support for either Trump or Clinton issued a statement congratulating the President Elect and thanking Clinton for her support in the past. He is obviously delighted that Trump won. It’s a safe bet that Bibi will want to cement ties with Trump as soon as possible. Therefore he will not want to arouse Trump’s ire with hasty decisions. Bibi has also apparently instructed his Likud cabinet ministers not to go overboard by giving the impression that Trump is now in Israel’s pocket. Netanyahu and his colleagues including Naftali Bennett would do well to remember that Trump has risen to power on his ‘America First’ platform and this will continue to be his prism for all his foreign policy decisions. If anything, policy-makers in Jerusalem must have realized Trump is impulsive and at times totally unpredictable.
During the election campaign Trump declared he did not see Israeli settlements as an obstacle to peace. This position has now been restated one day after the election, by Jason Greenblatt one of Trump’s senior advisors in an interview with IDF Radio:
‘Mr. Trump does not define the settlements as an obstacle to peace and will bring as evidence the situation in the Gaza Strip where all the Jewish settlements were evacuated nonetheless this did not bring peace…
Moreover he sees Israel as being in a very tough position and needs to defend itself. He will not impose an agreement on Israel… he believes the sides must work it out’.
On the thorny issue of Trump’s campaign pledge to move the US embassy to Jerusalem Greenblatt replied:
‘If he said so, he’ll do it. He’s different for Israel than all the recent presidents. He’s a man who sticks by his word. He recognizes the historic connection between the Jewish people and Jerusalem, in contrast to UNESCO’.
However this remains to be seen. Actually when all is said and done it is doubtful that moving the embassy to Jerusalem in truly in Israel’s interest. Prime Minister Netanyahu is now trying to forge a new alliance with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and even Turkey to confront the ascendancy of Iran in the wake of the Obama nuclear deal. If Washington did move the embassy it could trigger violent rioting throughout the Sunni Arab world against both Israel and the US. In other words, it could torpedo Israel’s strategic interest.
Greenblatt also disclosed that shortly before Election Day, he and other advisors had presented a position-paper to Trump. These included proposals for an American veto of any UN decisions that harmed Israel, a cessation of US financing for the UN Human Rights Commission that deals almost exclusively with Israel as well as a request that the US Justice Department investigate attempts to threaten pro-Israeli students on college campuses. Greenblatt added that Trump referred too many of these issues during his campaign.
But more importantly, one day after his sensational victory, President Elect Trump sent this message via the Yisrael Hayom newspaper in Israel, which has supported him in the campaign;
‘I love and respect Israel and her citizens. Israel and the U.S. share so many common values like freedom of expression, freedom of religion, and attach such great importance to creating opportunities for all its citizens and the achievement of their dreams. I look forward to strengthening the unbreakable bond between our two great nations. I know full-well that Israel is the sole democracy in the Middle East and the sole defender of human rights. It serves as a beacon of hope for many people. I believe that my administration can play an important role in aiding the sides to find a just and lasting peace that must be achieved by the parties themselves and not imposed upon them by others. Israel and the Jewish people are entitled to it’.
Israeli Opposition leader Yitzak Herzog hoped the ‘global trend of disgust with the old, power elite (Netanyahu) and the desire for swift and direct change would also visit the Jewish state’. Lots of luck! The Right wing in Israel and world-wide view the Trump victory as a huge shot in the arm.
On the other hand, the Arab world is taking a sober view of Donald Trump. The Secretary General of the Arab League, representing twenty-two Middle East countries, believes that 90% of Trump’s election slogans will not be implemented. For example, Secretary Ahmed Aboul Gheit is certain Trump will not move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. The Arab official hoped Trump would be honest and wise in resolving the Palestinian issue. He also called on Trump to adopt the Arab peace initiative that could bring ‘overall peace and stability to the region’.
But it may be that the Palestinians, if they were ever truly interested in the two-state solution, have lost the chance by not negotiating during the Obama administration. Obama had made crystal clear he was willing to go the extra mile for them, if they would come to the table and be willing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state in a final peace treaty. However President Abbas like his predecessor Yasser Arafat was not ready, or able, to do so. (When it comes to Israeli settlement building, bear in mind that even Netanyahu halted this construction for ten months as a good will gesture, but Abbas refused to show up to the table. Instead he has preferred to seek an ‘imposed ‘settlement’ on the Jewish state. Now if Trump stands by his word, the new administration will block such a dictation. Will President Obama now support such a step at the UN during his final days in office? This would be viewed as deliberately thwarting his successor – but who knows?
Another big question is how Trump will react to any new violations by Iran of the nuclear deal which he has branded ‘disastrous’. After Ben Rhodes bragged openly about how he and the rest of the Obama administration deliberately lied about the accord, will Trump accept it as a bad deal he must live with or keep the Ayatollahs’ feet to the fire?
Trump like Obama is a media genius at the two extremes of American politics. Both have proved to be spell- binding orators and masters at persuading American voters. One used the smooth rhetoric of the idealistic philosopher who shunted aside the ‘American dream’ for so many middle-class white Americans. Despite his vulgar cracks about women, even a majority of white females voters, 53% according to the New York Times, picked Trump! How come? Simply because he used his shocking rhetoric to show disillusioned and angry Americans that Trump ‘gets it’. He was the outsider who was ready to go to Washington and help them take back America.
Obama entered the White House after first enchanting America with his idealistic vision of what America could be. But along the way, too many Americans were left on the sidelines and disheartened. Obama cashed in on this massive disillusionment, which the well-paid media totally failed to see. Lower middle-class Americans in middle-America were invisible. But Trump saw them and knew how to grab their attention. Whether a businessman who finagled at least four bankruptcies into becoming a billionaire will be able to successfully govern the greatest superpower on the globe remains to be seen.