Trump and Israel
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
We may live in a hi-tech, 24/7 news cycle, internet, social media age, but events are happening so fast in the current scene in Washington that it is virtually impossible even to keep up with only one issue. Soon people will no longer be able to figure out what time of the day it really is with a President who tweets before the sun rises, For example, yesterday Washington moved from telephone calls to Australia and Mexico; to a Prayer Breakfast; to Supreme Court vetting; to new executive orders; to Cabinet nominees being challenged; to a warning to Iran; and to Israeli settlements being challenged. It was a total whirlwind. Things occurred at such a daunting pace, that even the most inured Washington insider could not possibly deal with the details; and this covered only an eight hour time period!
To focus only on the Trump Administration’s critique of Israel’s announced construction of 3000 new units and a new settlement–in addition to the 2500 units which Israel had announced a week ago—itself required full attention. Clearly the White House has begun to sense that in dealing with Israel if you give the Netanyahu Government even a subtle positive signal, it will run with it for all it is worth. Having received no negative response last week when the Israelis announced the expansion of existing settlements and the construction of additional units in Jerusalem, Bibi obviously decided that now was the time—after the evacuation from Amona—to announce that for the first time in more than 20 years Israel intended to build a new West Bank settlement. To their surprise—and undoubtedly to their American religious and right-wing supporters—the Trump Administration indicated that they did not view this action as constructive or helpful to any future peace process.
While perhaps not as definitive as might have been the response from the Obama White House/State Department— nothing from the Trump Administration to date has been truly explicit or declarative or well thought through—the Administration’s reaction probably surprised many in Israel and the U.S. They had expected that Israel would receive a total free ride in its settlement policy. Similarly, it is curious that when the new Administration signaled on January 21 that they were not moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem so fast—as had been promised American Jews during the campaign–Bibi deflected this remark with some obfuscating comments and Trump’s Jewish supporters gave the President a pass. (So much for the 27% of American Jews who did not vote for Hillary reportedly because Trump would be better for Israel.)
It is also worth noting that there have been no comments heard as yet from Trump’s ambassador-designate to Israel David Friedman. He undoubtedly will be questioned when he comes up for Senate confirmation as to whether as U.S. ambassador he can accept these policies which appear to be at odds with his own previous statements and actions.
All of this activity clearly suggests on these two issues as well as on the Iran deal, Trump and Netanyahu are likely to have a substantial serious agenda when they meet on February 15.