Right-wing Israelis and their American counterparts are discovering that in some areas, even for Donald Trump, governing is not the same as campaigning. Everyone in the Trump Administration, beginning with his press secretary Sean, appears to trying desperately to dampen any expectation that the U.S. will be moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem anytime soon. While this may all change in three weeks when Bibi come to Washington, it is interesting to see that it in making Mid-East policy the Trump Administration is already tampering down the bluster.
It is likely that all the new so-called Trump point people working on U.S.-Israel relations, Trump’s policy with Israel, and Trump’s relationships with the American Jewish community have actually sat down and read some of the extensive briefing books that were prepared by the State Department for the new Administration. This would even include the Ambassador-designate David Friedman, Jason Miller, Jason Greenblatt, and even Jared Kushner. Some of this material undoubtedly is humbling to this group who have no diplomatic or even political experience. They have spent their lives working the sidelines and attending pro-Israel meetings and pep rallies and never have actually engaged in anything resembling negotiating and making Middle East policy.
Friedman, announcing he will work several days a week in Jerusalem where he already owns a large home, is a far cry from moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. Someone has probably already told Friedman as well that everyone will need to sit tight at least until the end of May when the President is required to report next to Congress on why he has or has not yet decided to move the U.S. Embassy. Furthermore, Friedman as well as some of the others may well have raised funds for some of the West Bank settlements, but charitable contributions are not part of being involved or responsible for decision-making. It is one thing to read public articles about the consequences of settlement expansion versus reading embassy reports or State Department memos describing Abbas’s response or that of the Saudi leaders to moving the embassy or rejecting a two-state solution or their readiness to launch an attack on Israel for becoming an apartheid regime.
Trump can keep the PR and rhetoric flowing about his strong support for Israel, but actions are what will tell. He may let Netanyahu get off free with his announced building of 600 new housing units in East Jerusalem and the expansion of 2500 new units on the West Bank as a post-Obama, post-U.N. vote rebound maneuver. It remains to be seen, however, whether Trump did not want to confront Netanyahu until he arrives here or that Bibi knew that this might be his best chance to act now to get his right wing partners off his back, before the two sides seriously address the status of any negotiating prospects. While Netanyahu may well want to push Trump on Iran, it is likely that the briefing books on that subject will have also been read by February.
The one positive sign in the larger picture is that maybe on the more complex foreign policy issues, even Donald Trump may be prepared to tread with caution. There may be more signs already on Friday when he meets with Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May to discuss Brexit.