Time to reset Israel-US ties

The coming of the new day tarried. But Friday at noon – when Trump takes over in Washington – that new day will finally arrive.

January 19, 2017 23:00
4 minute read.
Netanyahu Trump

Netanyahu and Trump. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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“It’s a new day,” I wrote in an analysis a month ago, after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi withdrew an anti-settlement resolution from the UN Security Council after being asked to do so by US President- elect Donald Trump.

The argument was a simple one. Egypt knew that the resolution was not in line with the Middle East policies that will likely be taken by the Trump administration, and – after having had a rocky relationship with the Obama administration – wanted to get off on the right foot with the new one. This was a sign that the sands had already begun to significantly shift in the region.

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But that analysis was a month premature, for after Egypt pulled its resolution, New Zealand, Senegal, Malaysia and Venezuela brought a similar one to the UN that passed, with America’s abstention.

The coming of the newday tarried. But Friday at noon – when Trump takes over in Washington – that new day will finally arrive.

The angst in Israel about what US President Barack Obama would do in his final weeks in office, and whether there would be a follow-up at the UN Security Council to the resolutions agreed upon at the Paris Conference – all those are now yesterday’s concerns. The diplomatic process the French tried to ignite in Paris will go nowhere without US support, and that support will not be forthcoming under Trump.

It was telling in recent weeks that with everything happening in the world, let alone in the region, US Secretary of State John Kerry’s final major speech was on Israel. And Israel also took up a significant part of his discussion with New York Times columnist Tom Friedman this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, with Kerry repeating his arguments about the settlements killing the peace process. He dedicated not a word to the impact that Palestinian terrorism, incitement and political division and dysfunction have had on that same process.

Friedman mocked the notion that Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner would now deal with the Middle East, saying “his expertise seems to be that he once went to Jewish summer camp.” As if Kerry, with his eons of experience, did such a bangup job with the region.

And Obama, at his final press conference on Wednesday, said it was important to put the settlements on the agenda, to send “a signal, a wake-up call” that because of the settlements, the two-state solution is fading. In this telling, the abstention at the UN was a shot across Israel’s bow. What was noticeable in this press conference as well was that there was only one reference to Syria, and that in connection to Israel, and not a word about Iran or Palestinian terrorism – apparently they need no similar shots across their bows.
Trump: Israel was sold out by Kerry and Obama

And therein lies what will likely be one of the major changes that will emerge with the Trump administration: It is doubtful the new president or his national security team will be taking public shots across Israel’s bow.

Not because there won’t be differences between the countries, there will be. In fact, it is important for everyone to realize that Israel and the US are different countries, with different interests. And although these interests thankfully overlap most of the time, sometimes they don’t.

But the question is how those differences will be handled. Will they be put out there for all the world to see and for Israel’s enemies to gain comfort from, or will they be dealt with more discreetly.

Obama magnified the differences; the expectation and hope is that this will not be the Trump team’s modus operandi.

The change, however, is unlikely to be only one of tone, but also one of substance and personnel.

As Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi said this week, on two major issues – Iran and viewing the settlements as the primary obstacle to peace – the US and Israel are now on course to be partners, rather than the rivals they have been on these issues over the last number of years.

No one should have any illusions; the Trump administration is not going to give Israel a blank check on the settlements.

But it is unlikely to view them – and Jewish construction in Jerusalem – with the same animosity as did Obama, Kerry and many world leaders. And this, as well as seeing Iran through a similar prism, will remove constant points of friction.

Though Trump is difficult to predict, and the positions of some of his key national security team on Israel are enigmatic – for instance, the positions of Rex Tillerson at the State Department and James Mattis in the Pentagon – he has also surrounded himself with people who are strongly supportive of the current Israeli government, starting with vice president Mike Pence, and including Kushner; Nikki Haley, his nominee as envoy to the UN; Jason Greenblatt, his designated pick as special representative for international negotiations; and David Friedman, his appointee as ambassador to Israel.

In Trump’s inner circle, therefore, there will be people who will advocate for the policies championed by the current government of Israel to a degree that was sorely lacking in the Obama administration, at least since Dennis Ross left the White House as a key Middle East adviser in 2011.

“I can’t wait to start working with Israel,” Trump told Israel Hayom this week. “This weekend, relations between us officially begin.”

In other words, a new day. The expectation and hope in Jerusalem is that when it comes to Israel and the Middle East, this new day will also be a better one.

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