Trump in Israel: An opportunity for a meaningful speech

So what should the Trump administration prioritize to reassure its allies, warn enemies and stabilize the region during this most important visit to Israel?

May 7, 2017 21:54
3 minute read.
US PRESIDENT Donald Trump gestures to the press

US PRESIDENT Donald Trump gestures to the press. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Now that US President Donald Trump has met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and said, “We’re going to start a process which hopefully will lead to peace,” while UNESCO has endorsed another resolution claiming Israel illegally occupies every part of Jerusalem, including west Jerusalem, Trump is being lobbied to make good on his campaign promise – to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.

Israeli officials are not expecting such an announcement during Trump’s upcoming visit. It’s expected that the president, like presidents before him, will use his executive waiver to again delay the congressionally demanded relocation of the embassy to Jerusalem. Indeed, it would seem inadvisable to make a splashy headline of an embassy move during this visit. A better strategic choice would be to move the embassy in a quiet, incremental way, avoiding embarrassing those Arab governments that are strategic allies of the US, and not force them into making this a defining issue.

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It might seem counterintuitive, but when Saudi Arabia saw the Obama administration deceive America’s most important ally in the region, promising the Israelis that they would be kept in the loop concerning the Iran negotiations, it viewed this as American perfidy, shaking its confidence in American long-term assurances of protection against their enemies.

America firmly backing Israel again might reassure the Saudis and other Gulf states that America is once again a reliable ally.

So what should the Trump administration prioritize to reassure its allies, warn enemies and stabilize the region during this most important visit to Israel?

When President Trump comes to Israel this spring he should take the opportunity to make a significant policy speech, explaining America’s view on Israel in relation to its neighbors. If I were advising the president, here is my checklist for that speech:

1. The American position is re-affirmed, the 1967 line was never supposed to be a final border. It was simply where the combatants stopped fighting when the Arabs tried to annihilate Israel at its inception. As US secretary of state William Rogers said in 1969, “those boundaries were armistice lines, not final political borders.”

2. It is the American position that the 1967 line would be an indefensible border that would invite war, especially in light of the fact that Israel’s enemies continue to claim Israel has no right to exist.

3. United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, which the Obama administration allowed to pass in December 2016, unfairly prejudges future negotiations by forcing Israel to negotiate with the 1967 line as a starting point. UNSC 2334 does not supersede UNSC Resolution 242, as it is a non-binding resolution.

4. American policy calls for a change in the UNRWA definition of Palestinian refugees to the UNHCR definition, which does not define the descendants of refugees as refugees.

5. America stands against all types of BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) against Israel, including those that target the disputed territories.

6. America views with disfavor the international community’s call for Israel to withdraw from the Golan Heights. It is the height of irresponsibility to advocate this with Islamic State, Iran, Hezbollah and al-Qaida’s Jabhat Fateh al-Sham literally on Israel’s doorstep.

7. Palestinians have legitimate grievances, but this does not relieve them of responsibility for their actions and what they teach their children, and those actions should have consequences.

8. For the Sunni Arabs, the speech should call for a new security alliance to counter their number one threat: Iranian expansionism into the Sunni world. It should subtly but unmistakably include Israel as part of the bulwark against Iran’s ambitions.

Before the trip, Trump should quietly reach out to offer more humanitarian and counterinsurgency funding to Egypt and Jordan in exchange for acquiescence or muted criticism of a move of the US embassy.

It would be no stretch for President Trump to say that America is there to help the region but not impose its vision in the Arab world. It would be wonderful to think Western-style democracy, pluralism and tolerance can take root in the Middle East, but we have found out the hard way this could take generations.

Trump might end his speech by addressing antisemitism and Israel. How about “anti-Zionism is simply antisemitism in disguise, and as long as I am president I will condemn both for what they are.”

I look forward to joining in the celebration of Israel’s 70th birthday next year.

The author is director of MEPIN™, the Middle East Political and Information Network™. He regularly briefs members of Congress and think tanks on the Middle East.

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