Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with US President Donald Trump at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on January 25, 2018.
(photo credit: REUTERS/CARLOS BARRIA)
There is a fundamental synapse in perceptions between Americans and Israelis regarding Donald J. Trump, the 45th president of the United States.
It’s not just an ocean and a time zone that divides red, white and blue from blue and white.
Israelis can be extremely nuanced in their perceptions, very sensitive in their critique of art, theater, music, food, history, film and, of course, politics. But almost without exception when it comes to sizing up a friend or foe, an ally or an enemy, Israelis are simple. They are quick to judge and when that happens, issues, insights and deep evaluations go out the window.
It happened when then US president Bill Clinton became embroiled in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. A large billboard was erected in Tel Aviv proclaiming “We’re Behind You, Bill.” It did not matter to most Israelis that the most powerful man in the world, the president of the United States, had exploited his position and “did not have sex” with an intern.
In the eyes of Israelis he was a friend – a good friend – and that is all that counted.
So, too, with regard to President Donald Trump. No one – friend or foe of Israel alike – can deny that Trump has been the most positive president for Israel in recent history and possibly in all of its history. Declaring that the US recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is unparalleled in foreign policy. Moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem was a watershed in international diplomacy.
But here’s the catch: Friends are much more likely to cause serious and deep harm than the harm caused by enemies.
Familiarity, in this case, breeds comfort. And when one is too comfortable it is easy to get hurt.
That’s precisely what happened under the Clinton presidency. It was Clinton who pushed the Oslo Accords. Oslo never would have made it through any internal Israeli debate had George Bush been president, and had he been the one to propose the Oslo peace deal. The proposals would never have been entertained. The Clinton team convinced Israel that Oslo was the answer.
After all, the US under Clinton was a “true friend” of Israel and true friends would never steer each other wrong. Or so Israelis blindly believed.
And now Israel, and by extension the world, stands on the precipice of another US-sponsored and -conjured plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
And here’s the caveat: The goodwill that has been engendered by the US change in policy on Jerusalem must stand on its own. It must not color Israel’s perspective, Israel’s acceptance or rebuttal, of the US peace plan.
With the US peace plan there will be some very difficult elements for Israel to swallow. It’s inevitable. The US will insist, and actually believe, that it came through for Israel with Jerusalem and now it is time for Israel to pay back, to reciprocate.
The best way for Israel to manage the US peace initiative – no matter what it proposes or what it entails – is to make certain that the response is a firm and resounding “yes.” Let the Palestinians say “no,” a response they are very practiced and skilled in giving. Say “yes” and then, after a pause for reflection, list the reservations. It is essential that Israeli leadership not be dazzled by the bold herculean act of the US president in cutting an Israeli/Palestinian peace deal. Yes, he is a friend but he also wants a deal. And a deal will require Israel to concede to serious compromises and accommodations.
The damage that a well-intentioned but grossly misinformed Clinton caused Israel in the diplomatic arena with Oslo has been incalculable. Israel is still suffering those consequences. The Trump administration has had the benefit of time. They have studied a long history of doomed efforts. But they still want to broker a deal – they really want a deal. And when you want a deal so badly sometimes closing the deal overrides the content of the deal.
For proof, just look at the Iranian nuke deal.The author is a political commentator. He hosts the TV show
Thinking Out Loud on JBS TV. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern.
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