The tsunami is here already

In the two months between now and January 20th, the Israeli government should expect to feel tremendous pressure.

November 15, 2016 20:41
Netanyahu Trump

Netanyahu and Trump. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Only one week has passed since Donald Trump won the US elections, and the ground has not yet stopped trembling. Apparently it will not settle for a while – at least not until January 2017, and maybe even later. The aftershocks have yet to subside, and we might do well to prepare ourselves for a tsunami, since they often follow earthquakes.

In this 2016 revolution, the most conservative citizens in America decided to change the political map and the political reality and carry out a true political and social revolution.

People all over the world were watching as this intense drama unfolded. People across the spectrum were involved: the media, pollsters, the business community and individuals around the world. But I guess we haven’t learned our lesson: you shouldn’t sell the skin before you’ve caught the bear.

Of course, Israel-America relations will also turn a new page now. A new president comes with a 5,000-member team of ambassadors and political appointees who will replace the previous ones and help build a new administration. It is the nature of political administrations to install new leaders who then implement new policies. Congress, which has now become completely Republican, will now turn a new page. Israel will need to act quickly to form a deep relationship with the new tenant in the White House, the Republican Party and Congress.

On the surface, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should feel satisfied. He and US President Barack Obama have never been the best of friends, and the tension in the air remained despite their recent efforts to project business as usual.

Fortunately, Netanyahu succumbed to internal pressure and concluded the recent foreign defense deal, that’s valid for the next 10 years.

Officials in Jerusalem will certainly try to expunge a few sections from the agreement, such as restrictions on future increases or the cessation of converting dollars into shekels, and overall try to enhance our position. This agreement protects Israel from any effort on the part of the US to renege upon its commitment.

Luckily, US administrations have traditionally respected agreements signed by outgoing administrations.

Netanyahu has had very little contact with US President-elect Donald Trump.

Netanyahu met with him just a few weeks ago, and Trump even referred to this meeting in one of the pre-election debates. But it is doubtful Netanyahu can assess what Trump’s true position toward Israel is, or if he even has one at all.

Trump’s speech at AIPAC, however, was much more important. It was part of the highly complex campaign, though, so we must take what he said there with a grain of salt. It will be interesting to see if Trump keeps the promises he made that evening, such as moving the American embassy to Jerusalem. We’ve received such assurances in the past, but the move was never actually made.

Israel’s ambassador in Washington, Ron Dermer, will probably be welcomed by the new US administration. The Republicans are certain to bring Dermer in closer, which is in stark contrast with the extremely negative – and even angry – way he was treated by the Obama administration.

In Jerusalem, officials are already clearing up their calendars so they can find a date for an official visit to Washington.

Netanyahu will want to visit Pennsylvania Avenue as soon as possible so that he can begin a new chapter with Trump.

Israeli prime ministers need to have a strong relationship with the US president so that we can know we have a solid base to rely on in times of need. And by the way, despite his strained relationship with Netanyahu, Obama never failed to support Israel in times of need.

Regarding international relations, Trump has made conflicting statements.

On the face of it, Trump’s isolationist approach looks like a bad omen for Israel.

Trump’s supporters campaigned to “Make America Great Again.” Trump promised to make US allies pay for the security they receive, and mentioned specific countries such as Saudi Arabia.

Israel is also included in this list, as we are in need of American foreign military aid.

But how does this fit with Trump’s strong-arm attitude and his criticism of Obama and especially of Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy strategy, and the claim that they allowed Islamic State to take over Syria and Iraq? Obama has been a staunch advocate of diplomacy, and use of force was anathema to him.

Trump might just alter this paradigm and reinstate US troops overseas. But will he really be willing to send US ground troops to fight against ISIS? The balance of power between Israel and the US is unequal – until you factor in the American Jewish community.

This is the third side of the iron triangle, in which each side contributes to and is also supported by the other two sides. As in previous elections, the American Jewish community voted overwhelmingly Democratic. This longtime friendship grew stronger during Bill Clinton’s term as president and again when Hillary Clinton served as a US senator. In fact, in the current election a record-breaking 70 percent of American Jews apparently voted for Clinton. In addition, Jewish contributors gave an unusually high amount of money to Clinton’s campaign.

As a rule, Jews never put all their eggs in one basket. Trump included a number of Jews on his team, mainly conservatives from Orthodox communities.

The importance of these individuals has increased now without a doubt. The Democrats have a group of their top 10 Jewish supporters, whereas the Republicans have... Sheldon Adelson. Not unexpectedly, Adelson will probably be a key figure in the president-elect’s entourage.

The American Jewish community is also polarized, mostly along religious lines, but the various denominations must band together now and put aside their disagreements. Hopefully their common desire for a strong Israel will help them combine efforts at this unique moment in time.

Israel is going to need the support of a united American Jewish community.

Over the years, the divisions between Israel and the American Jewish community have grown wider, mainly over political and religious issues. American Jews didn’t like how Netanyahu stood up to Obama and they’re not happy that Israel has not managed to construct a common prayer area at the Western Wall. The Western Wall issue has taken on almost symbolic importance in the breakdown in Israel’s relationship with the American Jewish community. We need to finalize this matter so that we can move on to bigger and more important issues on our agenda.

I assume that the AIPAC leadership is carrying out a reassessment of the situation, first of all because of the changes in both Congress and the Senate. Secondly, a Republican administration is dramatically different from a Democratic one. Finally, it is such a rare situation in which a Republican president has the support of a Republican Congress, especially when the president was elected despite the lack of backing from within his own party. It will be a more difficult task than ever before for Congress to form a balance with the president.

And now back to the tsunami I referred to at the beginning of this column.

In the two months between now and January 20th, the Israeli government should expect to feel tremendous pressure. President Obama is pretty angry. He invested a lot in the Clintons and is extremely disappointed with the election outcome. Obama’s legacy is in serious jeopardy, especially with respect to healthcare reform. He still has a little bit of time left to secure for himself a political legacy, though. If he wanted to, Obama could end his tenure with a presidential statement at a Security Council discussion about the Middle East and Israeli-Palestinian relations. His views are known.

Take a deep breath – the drama is just beginning.

The author is a member of Knesset from the Zionist Union Party and chairs the Lobby for Strengthening the Jewish World and the Lobby for US-Israel Relations.

Translated by Hannah Hochner.

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