Can Trump stomach the Israeli Right's appetite for settlements?

Yes, Barack Obama is gone. But has Donald Trump arrived?

February 7, 2017 14:03
3 minute read.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) eats fruits and nuts

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) eats fruits and nuts . (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Despite annual warnings, thousands of people are admitted to emergency rooms in Muslim countries during the month of Ramadan every year because of overeating at traditional Iftar meals, during which the fast is broken daily.

Burjeel Hospital in Abu Dhabi treats at least 50 patients a day for gastroenteritis, vomiting, diarrhea and acute stomach pain and inflammation caused by eating too much, too quickly after the fast.

“Don’t break the fast with a feast,” Dr. Magdi Muhammad, an emergency medicine specialist at Burjeel, told the Abu Dhabi English newspaper The National.

Rightly or wrongly, the Israeli Right believes that during the eight years that Barack Obama was president of the United States, they might not have been starving, but they were severely limited in their intake.

There was a right-wing leader in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a right-wing coalition, but their hands were tied in Washington.

Despite regular US condemnation, which helped Netanyahu by making him look like a settlement construction champion to his right-wing voters, he built less over the Green Line than his predecessors Ehud Olmert, Ariel Sharon and certainly Ehud Barak, who built three times as much.

Now it’s sundown in the West Bank, and like overeager Muslims at the Iftar, the residents of Judea and Samaria and their representatives in the Knesset want to take advantage of their newfound consumption capability.

Yes, Barack Obama is gone. But has US President Donald Trump arrived? And if so, which Trump? The one who made clear that he does not believe settlements are an obstacle to peace, or the one whose administration warned Israel on Thursday to cease settlement announcements that are “unilateral” and “undermining” his effort to forge Middle East peace, as a senior administration official told The Jerusalem Post?

Perhaps we will know next Wednesday, when Netanyahu and Trump meet in Washington. Maybe it will take more time for the new administration to meet all the relevant parties and decide.

No one really knows yet, which makes the Right want to take action immediately, before they find that they are not getting the Trump they hoped for. The Bayit Yehudi faction met Monday to draft a series of demands ranging from annexation, to the cabinet accepting a report that settlements are legal, to taking action against the Supreme Court.

A political cartoon in Yediot Aharonot Tuesday depicted Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett dragging Netanyahu away from his meeting in London with British Prime Minister Theresa May to vote on the controversial settlements regulation bill.

“Wait a second – let me finish my tea!” an exasperated Netanyahu says in the cartoon.

Even though relations with Trump are already exponentially better for Netanyahu than they were with Obama, he also does not yet know which Trump he is getting. This means he must be careful, but not nearly as careful as he had to be before.

Call it strategic hesitation.

Before boarding his plane to London, Netanyahu said he had to coordinate the vote with the Trump administration so there would be no surprises. But he did not say it had to be postponed.

He warned Bennett he would not give into pressure. But then he let the vote pass.

Netanyahu told the cabinet he would pass the historic bill, but then made no real effort to ensure he would take part in the vote. He left it with the support of 60 MKs, not 61, which could make it even more vulnerable to disqualification by the High Court.

So while those sitting at the table to the Right of Netanyahu are ready to eat as much as they can, Netanyahu is testing what he – and Trump – can stomach.

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