Israelis and Trump’s Foreign Policy

Israelis and Trump’s Foreign Policy

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

Most world leaders are scratching their heads at a minimum as to what will be the nature of U.S. foreign policy over the next four years. It could be rather strange if Trump will continue to conduct his global contacts with foreign leaders with the same disdain or lack of interest in the State Department briefing books and background materials with which he had disregarded them during the numerous conversations which have occurred since his election. Regardless of his ego and sense of command of people and issues, it is obvious to most people who have ever operated in the foreign/political arena that even the most gifted of public statespersons cannot assimilate all the information which heads of state usually require and even desire for purposes of background, before meeting with their international counterparts.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in dealing with Middle East issues, which will present numerous problems for the incoming Administration.  Among them it appears that for the Trump team, Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations may well be a low priority. In Israel its leaders are traditionally obsessed with all American presidents, political leaders, and public officials. Such a position will no doubt be met with great enthusiasm.  For the moment, newspapers, the internet, and commentators are speculating non-stop as to what type of relationship the new Administration will have with Israel; once some of the briefing books are opened and the actual problems assessed.

Israelis and the American pro-Israel community already have begun to debate whether former Governor Mike Huckabee indeed will be the new ambassador to Israel as well as whether Trump truly will revoke or withdraw from the Iran deal.  Israeli Government officials already are lobbying appointed and potential key Trump national security advisers. Israel’s Ambassador in Washington, Ron Dermer, already is reported to have met with the president-elect and Steve Bannon is attending the Sunday night dinner of the Zionist Organization of America. U.S. policy on settlements and moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem seem to be high priority items for Bibi’s Government.  There appears to be a sense of euphoria among some elements of Netanyahu’s coalition that Trump may well abandon U.S. pressure on Israel to establish a reasonable two-state solution. 

Israelis also understand the historically critical role played by Congress in solidifying the U.S. relationship with Israel. They recognize that Presidents come and go, but many key Members of both the House and the Senate retain their positions for 25-40 years, growing in seniority and stature. While the new Congress apparently will come ready to solidly support the new President, the pro-Israel community and the Netanyahu Government recognize that today’s incoming freshman—from both parties—may well be in power and affecting the U.S.-Israel relationship decades after the Trump Administration is only history. It would seem to behoove the Israelis who view the new Government as likely to be the most supportive of Israel ever, to be careful not to alienate any of the more critical voices which are current, as well as those arriving now to assume their positions in the new Congress. 

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