Bibi Netanyahu won a historic fifth term this week as Israel’s prime minister, and Donald Trump was one of the biggest donors to his campaign.
Historically, Israelis prime ministers and American presidents meddle in each other’s elections on one side or the other, but none can match Trump’s contributions. Passover came early this year for wealthy Republican Jews gathered at Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas casino as they chanted “Dayenu” (“it would have been enough”) each time former senator Norm Coleman read off one of Trump’s gifts to the embattled PM.
He abrogated the Iran nuclear deal, recognized Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, relocated the American Embassy to the western sector of the city, said “occupied territories” are now “disputed territories,” acknowledged Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, opened the door to annexation of West Bank and put Iranian Revolutionary Guards on the foreign terrorist list.
It didn’t stop with the election, either. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Senate testimony and in interviews refused to endorse the two-state solution, which Bibi has rejected, or express any opposition to annexation of all or parts of West Bank.
Trump is a transactional president. He is unencumbered by ideology and integrity, and loyalty is a one-way street for him. It’s all about what is best for Trump. Bibi should know that – because they are similar in so many ways – and he should expect to return the favors.
Trump won’t be shy about collecting on the IOU. What will he expect? Complete loyalty, to begin with. It is what he demands from everyone.
The little-anticipated Trump “deal of the century” for Middle East peace may be unveiled any day now. Or not. Pompeo would only say it will offer a “different” and unique” vision. He refused to say whether it will endorse Palestinian statehood, a basic demand of the Palestinians and the Arab states, and something Netanyahu adamantly opposes.
Bibi has to be careful in his response. He can’t afford to leave fingerprints when he tries to choke the life out of it. He wants the Palestinians to do that for him, and history shows they’re very likely to oblige.
If the Trump plan sinks, it will immediately be re-dubbed by the White House as the “Kushner Plan” for the principle author and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner.
When Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, he opened the door for Netanyahu to rush through and promise voters he would begin annexing parts of the West Bank.
Ambassador David Friedman said future presidents, unlike this one, might not understand Israel’s need to retain control over the West Bank, and suggested Trump won’t force Israel to relinquish territory.
Pompeo told CNN that Netanyahu’s “vision” of annexation “won’t hurt” Trump’s peace plan, but he fully knows it will be a poison pill that the Palestinians cannot swallow. Such a move will also be roundly condemned by many of Israel’s friends in Congress, the Jewish community and by European governments.
Netanyahu’s last-minute pledge to annex areas of the West Bank turned the election into a “choice between future peace with the Palestinians or saying goodbye to a democratic Israel,” Dina Kraft wrote in The Christian Science Monitor.
“Trump was prepared to do whatever he asked,” according to Israeli journalist and Bibi biographer Anshel Pfeffer. And he will expect the same from Netanyahu.
When they met last in Washington, Trump reportedly told Netanyahu that unless Israel limits its ties with China (telecom, control of the new port in Haifa, technology), security cooperation with the United States could be reduced, reported Barak Ravid of Israel’s Channel 13 news.
Trump this week tweeted to his supporters pictures of “Trump flags being waved at the Bibi @Netanyahu VICTORY celebration last night!”
If the Trump plan is seen flashing a green light to those in Israel seeking a single state, with Israel permanently retaining the West Bank, it will please the Israeli and American Jewish Right but will be a prescription for new rounds of Palestinian violence and terror.
It will also severely damage Israel’s relations with its European allies and new Arab friends, and accelerate the American Jewish drift away from the Jewish state it once venerated.
That might be a political gift to Netanyahu but a cataclysm for the future of Israel.
One of Bibi’s top foreign policy priorities will be mobilizing his friends and follower to help reelect his friend Donald instead of one of the 613 Democrats running against him.
Trump will expect him to keep saying this president is the greatest friend of Israel ever in the White House and to deliver that message to Evangelicals, religious and conservative Jewish voters, and particularly Bibi’s own cadre of wealthy donors.
One place Bibi’s message is unlikely to resonate is among a large majority of American Jews, who voted 71% against Trump in 2016 and are likely to do so again next year.
Netanyahu’s next government will be even more beholden to nationalists, the ultra-religious and settlers. That means no movement toward religious pluralism, the Nation-State Law will remain, settlements will grow, and the lines between state and religion will continue to fade.
“The issues and values championed by the mainstream of American Jewry are almost wiped out of the Israeli political agenda,” wrote Natan Guttman in Moment magazine. And it looks like it will only get worse.
The Bibi-Donald bromance is all about looking out for number one. In the end, each man’s loyalty is to himself. “Bibi was Trump before there was Trump, always in a mode of solidifying and advancing his core base but not looking to be a unifying symbol of the state,” says David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
There’s more they have in common: Both were shaped by overbearing fathers, both possess overriding ambition and enormous egos, both are thrice-married confessed adulterers enmeshed in multiple scandals, and both hope the attorneys-general they appointed will keep them out of jail.
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