Trump Netanyahu and Clinton.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In his heart of hearts, and certainly not to be discussed with his political sugar daddy Sheldon Adelson, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is probably hoping for a Hillary Clinton victory in November’s US presidential election. And despite what former New York City mayor Rudi Giuliani believes, Israel’s right-wing leader will prefer dealing with the first woman president in America’s history than the flamboyant, uncontrollable and unpredictable Republican candidate Donald Trump.
Netanyahu hates surprises, and Trump’s whole candidacy has been one huge surprise, from his decision to run, his winning the Republican nomination and his sudden surge in the head-to-head polls against Clinton. More pertinently for Netanyahu, no one has a real clue as to where Trump stands on issues of vital importance to Israel.
The early signs are not encouraging.
Trump’s flirtation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, unlike our own Avigdor Liberman’s embarrassing endorsement of Putin’s democratic credentials when Liberman was foreign minister, would seriously endanger the West, and by extension Israel, were Trump ever get to sit in the Oval Office. A strengthening of Russia’s standing at the expense of the US would have serious knock-on effects in the Middle East, in particular boosting Russia’s de facto allies Iran and Hezbollah.
More widely, Trump’s willingness to discuss recognizing Russia’s land grab in the Crimean and his threats to weaken NATO would be a disastrous reshuffling of the post-Cold War order. Trump’s strident isolationism will certainly be setting off alarm bells in the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. Take a look at Trump’s remarks regarding his commitment to the NATO alliance: “I want to keep NATO , but I want them to pay,” Trump told a rally in Scranton, Pennsylvania, last week.
“I don’t want to be taken advantage of... We’re protecting countries that most of the people in this room have never even heard of and we end up in World War Three? ...Give me a break.”
In the past, Trump has also talked of his willingness to “walk” if countries like Japan, Germany or Saudi Arabia do not pay the full cost for American troops stationed in their countries.
Given Israel’s reliance on American military aid, this is certainly not music to Netanyahu’s ears. It’s surely no coincidence that after dragging his heels for over year, convinced he could get a better deal from the next US administration, Netanyahu has suddenly switched gears and begun to move decisively to reach an agreement with President Barack Obama over the next 10-year Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on US military aid to Israel.
With a reported $40 billion at stake, Netanyahu has belatedly realized it is not in Israel’s interest for this huge package to become a political football in what promises to be an exceptionally divisive American election campaign. For all Netanyahu and his supporters’ attempts to falsify history and portray Obama as the most anti-Israel US president in recent history, this MoU, once signed, will set the seal on Obama’s pro-Israel legacy and his commitment to Israel’s security.
ISRAEL NEEDS a US president who is measured, consistent and credible, all qualities Trump has already shown he lacks. Shooting from the hip on Twitter is amusing, from the Oval Office it would be a nightmare.
One day Trump says he is “neutral” on Israel and Palestine, and suggests that Israeli obstinacy is behind the difficulty of securing peace: “A lot will have to do with Israel and whether or not Israel wants to make the deal – whether or not Israel’s willing to sacrifice certain things.”
The next day (when he happens to be addressing the AIPAC convention) he insists he “will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem,” if elected president, a promise regularly made but never kept by would-be American presidents. The Trump-inspired removal of support for the two-state solution from the Republican platform then places the party to the Right of Netanyahu, and offers no insight into resolving the Israel- Palestine conflict.
With Clinton, on the other hand, Netanyahu knows exactly what’s in store – more of the same, and from the prime minister’s perspective, what’s not to like? Despite the clear ideological differences between Netanyahu and Obama, and the clash over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the latter’s administration has never wavered in its support for Israel when it really mattered for Jerusalem.
And neither will Clinton. Her record as a senator and secretary of state is one of a clear supporter of Israel. Under her stewardship, the State Department increased military assistance for Israel every year, from $2.55b. when she took office to $3.1b. in FY2013, a nearly 20 percent increase, while diplomatically she ensured the United States blocked UN Security Council resolutions for Palestinian statehood.
Clinton and Netanyahu might not be friends, but Israel doesn’t need friends, it needs strong allies. A Trump presidency will see a weakening of US alliances across the world as America turns inwards, which is precisely the opposite of what Israel needs.The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.