The devil we don’t know

Donald Trump has gone out of his way to appear more pro-Israel than Hillary Clinton, but with an isolationist, transactional foreign policy, what will his positions really be?

November 3, 2016 20:20
4 minute read.
Donald Trump

Donald Trump. (photo credit: REUTERS/JOE RAEDLE/POOL)

In a mirror image of the picture among American Jews, citizens of the United States living in Israel would vote for Donald Trump as their next president. An exit poll by iVoteIsrael, which registers American citizens in Israel for the absentee ballot, Trump received 49 percent of the local American vote, beating out Hillary Clinton’s 44%. That’s way down from the 84 to 14 percent margin that Mitt Romney scored here over Barack Obama in 2008, but it is still a vastly different picture from the US, where polls have Clinton leading Trump by 42% among Jewish voters.

Among Israelis, polling statistics have fluctuated, but reflect sizeable support for the Republican candidate. An October Israel Democracy Index poll had 41.8% of the public saying Clinton is the better candidate for Israel, compared to 23.9 % for Trump; in a poll a month earlier the two candidates were both hovering around 34 percent support.

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The figures reflect a belief among many Israelis that Trump will give unfailing backing to the Jewish State, while Clinton is seen as likely to continue President Barack Obama’s policy, which they view as anti-Israel.

That is far from being the case, however.

Clinton has a long track-record of support for Israel and has expressed her desire to turn a new page in relations with Israel after years of bad blood between Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

She has expressed opposition to any attempt to impose a solution to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, including at the United Nations, where Israel fears a resolution may be passed without an American veto during the period between the elections and the next president taking office.

A Clinton victory would make it harder for Obama to take any extreme measures setting out parameters for an end to the conflict, as the lame-duck would have to consult with his Democratic successor. A Trump victory, on the other hand, would boost Obama’s motivation to both set out his parameters or a final status agreement and tie his successor’s hands. While Clinton’s vision of a two-state solution is similar to Obama’s, her vision of how to get there differs greatly. She also believes in a conducive environment, not in creating daylight between Israel and the administration.

Furthermore, she clearly has a realistic appraisal of what is achievable and what is not. In an email released recently by WikiLeaks that Clinton sent to senior foreign policy adviser Jake Sullivan – who is likely to become her national security adviser, if she is elected – she wrote that a “a Potemkin process is better than nothing.”

A fake process where nothing really happens would be music to Netanyahu’s ears, but if he thinks that will give him free reign on settlement construction he will will be making a serious error.

The bottom line on Clinton is that she has worked with Netanyahu, the two understand each other and understand each other’s limits and constraints. Even if in some consider her a devil when it comes to Israel, for Netanyahu she is at least the devil he knows.

This is not the case with Trump. While he has tried to out-do Clinton in his pro-Israel statements, he is an unknown quantity, volatile and unpredictable.

He told Netanyahu in a meeting that he would would recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel – then again so did senator Barack Obama while campaigning in 2008, and for that matter so did Hillary Clinton in 1999 when she was planning a run for the New York Senate seat. He said there would be no pause in settlement construction and has stripped the Republican Party platform of any reference to the two-state solution. His advisers have said that as president he would enable Congress to increase aid to Israel beyond the $38 billion allocated over the 10 years of the recently signed Memorandum of Understanding between the countries, that he would cut off funds to the United Nations Human Rights Council and launch a Justice Department investigation into the activities of the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions Movement on US college campuses.

But Trump has also said he would be neutral on Israel if he attempted to take what he called a long shot at the toughest deal in the world. And he has said that Israel, and other American allies, should pay for the defense aid they receive.

While Trump’s foreign policy speeches have seemed incoherent and often off the cuff, it has been described by analysts as transactional – in other words a dollars and cents approach of what pays off for America. Israel’s relationship with the US has been built on common values and common interests. Where that relationship will really stand with Trump in the White House in anyone’s guess.

Furthermore, his “America first” approach and isolationism stand in stark contrast to Clinton’s belief in a global security order.

When it comes to what Trump’s calculations will be in his transactional foreign policy, he is very much the devil we don’t know.

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