A Trump presidency creates a dangerous level of uncertainty in the Middle East, former United States ambassador Daniel Kurtzer warned on Wednesday morning, as the election was wrapping up.
“The idea of American exceptionalism, the idea of the US being a beacon of democracy, will now be seen as a joke.”
Kurtzer, who was US envoy to Israel from 2001 to 2005 under former US president George W.
Bush, said to the Institute for National Security Studies in a Skype talk given from the US.
He took Trump to task for racist tones that surrounded his campaign, saying the currents of behavior brought out by the campaign “will be hard to put back in the box.” Kurtzer then listed: “anti-Semitism, prejudice against people of color, Latinos, women, and immigrants.”
He continued, “When people like [former Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard] David Duke and other racists will be celebrating a victory, it will make it difficult to reestablish our relationships with allies [abroad]. Those ties are already frayed by the disappointed of those allies, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt already feel with Obama’s policies.”
On top of that, add in the uncertainty Trump represents, because no one really knows what he has “in mind for foreign policy generally, and the Middle East in particular,” Kurtzer said. “I do not think that Donald Trump has given any thought whatsoever to substantive policy.”
Trump’s advisers have suggested fundamental changes in the United States’ approach to the Palestinians.
Kurtzer suggested those changes could include moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, support for West Bank settlement activity, or annexing parts of the West Bank.
Such actions, if executed, would “align American policy much more closely with what I would call the right wing of Israeli policy,” he said.
That has implications for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but would also make it difficult for countries in the region to continue looking to the US to advance the peace process.
Kurtzer questioned whether Egypt and Saudi Arabia could remain allied with the US, if it took such actions.
Trump talks about asserting American power and American strength, he noted, but no one knows how that will play out with Syria and Iran pragmatically, particularly with respect to the nuclear agreement with Tehran, which Trump has said he would tear up.
US Ambassador Dan Shapiro also spoke at the event, and said he believed the close ties between Israel and the US would continue with the next administration.
The US is committed to Israel’s security and to the promotion of peace, he said. The new administration will continue in that vein and can build on Obama’s support for Israel’s security such the newly agreed upon $38 billion ten year military aid package.
On December 12, two F-35 fighter jets will be delivered to Israel from the US and represent the future of the country’s airforce, Shapiro said.
He ducked questions about Trump’s promise to move the embassy to Jerusalem.
Questions were asked about the possibility of Obama moving forward with an initiative on the peace process before leaving office in January, including a resolution at the UN Security Council.
Nothing like that has been “drafted” or “proposed,” Shapiro answered.
“No decision” has been taken on this, nor is there a timetable or a direction for this. But the Obama administration is “deeply concerned” that the “two-state solution is receding from us.”
He blamed both the Israelis and the Palestinians for this, citing violence, incitement, settlement expansion and the demotion of Palestinian homes.
The US “wants to arrest those trends before the two-state solution becomes impossible to achieve. We may be faced with a bi-national reality,” he warned.
Obama has asked if there are steps that can be taken in the next months that would return the sides to a negotiated two-state solution, so it would remain viable for the next administration, according to Shapiro.
AIPAC policy director Rob Bassin, also speaking via Skype to the gathering, said while most people are looking ahead to January when Trump will replace Obama, the next two months will still be very significant.
In that time, he said Congress has to reauthorize the Iran sanctions act, so that the US can maintain its ability to snap restrictions on Iran back in place, should it violate the agreement.
Bassin noted that the $3.8 billion military package still needs Congressional approval.
He added that Congress is looking to approve a resolution opposing one-sided resolutions against Israel at the UN.
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