(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
US President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration on Friday will allow the US and Israel to cease being rivals, and begin being partners, on the two critical issues of Iran and the settlements, Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi said on Monday.
“We can feel comfortable about the fact that the incoming administration, unlike its predecessor, feels the same way [as Israel] about two major issues: the Iran deal and about settlements not being an obstacle to peace,” Hanegbi said at a press briefing organized by The Israel Project.
Hanegbi said this is a “powerful” and “positive” change, though he does not know how it will immediately manifest itself. The Iranian nuclear deal, he said, is a “fait accompli, and not easy to change.” Regarding the settlements, Hanegbi said that the “world is not going to adopt Trump’s views just because he doesn’t feel the same animosity to the settlements compared to other [world] leaders.”
Nevertheless, he said, it will now be possible to put aside the tension that those two issues caused to the US-Israel relationship and “make it easier for us to have a common plan with the US” on these two matters.
For instance, Hanegbi said, the US and Israel will now be “full partners” on how to deal with Iranian provocations, Iran’s development of ICBMs, its spreading of terrorism around the globe, and issues relating to Syria.
“With [US President Barack] Obama we were full partners only until he made the decision to change policies and go forward with the agreement with Iran – then we even became rivals on various issues,” he said. “But this is out of the equation now.”
Similarly, Hanegbi said, the settlement issue had a “terrible effect” on the relations between the two countries and their two leaders. He said that Obama’s policy of calling for a complete halt to settlement construction from the outset of his presidency was especially “problematic” because, once he did that, “the Palestinians could not be less tough about the settlement issue than the president of the United States.”
Regarding the possibility of Trump moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Hanegbi noted that many countries had their embassies in Jerusalem in the past and that it is “about time” to put to end the “abnormality” of the US Embassy not being in the country’s capital.
Until Israel formally annexed the city in 1980, some 13 states had their embassies in Jerusalem.
Hanegbi said there is “no justification” for the US not locating the embassy in Jerusalem in 1948, but that Israel did not have the type of relationship it has with the US back then to allow it to complain. But with the alliance now so “intimate and profound,” the refusal of US presidents to move the embassy is “very frustrating,” he said.
Hanegbi downplayed Palestinian threats that moving the embassy would “open the gates of hell,” saying that as public security minister, he opened the Temple Mount to Jewish and Christian tourists in 2003, after three years of it being closed down, and the world did not quake. Plus, he added, the Temple Mount is a more sacred issue for Muslims than an embassy.
He said that this move is unlikely to trigger a new intifada, because neither Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas nor the Palestinian people has an interest in one.