Washington Watch: Start worrying, details to follow

“Start Worrying. Details to follow.”

November 23, 2016 21:00
4 minute read.
White House

The White House. (photo credit: REUTERS)

A week after the stunning 2016 presidential election, the number one game in Washington – and most other capitals – is guessing what a Trump administration will look like. The answer is: no one knows, probably including President-elect Donald Trump himself. He was long on promises and threats but painfully short on details. His first senior-level appointments are all white men on the far Right who many consider to be Islamophobes, but he has many more posts to fill and promises to keep.

He has vowed to build a wall on the Mexican border, ban Muslims coming into this country, warm up relations with Russia, repeal and replace Obamacare, void many of President Barack Obama’s executive orders, declare China a currency manipulator, accede to Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Japan going nuclear, cancel or renegotiate long standing trade agreements, alter the Iran nuclear agreement and toss his opponent in prison.

Israelis on the far Right are celebrating his election as signaling an end to American support for Palestinian statehood and removing objections to unrestrained settlement construction.

But Trump has sent a plethora of mixed signals and raises more questions than he answers. Here are a few for Israelis and American Jews to consider:

• Where does he stand on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process? Trump is either anxious to demonstrate his much-boasted-about deal making skills by brokering peace, or he simply wrote the region off when he dropped support for the two-state solution from the GOP platform and said neither side is really serious about negotiating an agreement. It depends on who you’re listening to, when and to what audience they’re speaking.

• Will Trump companies be building West Bank settlements? He is proud of the properties he has built, slapping his name on many, and has sent word that he does not share his predecessors’ opposition to settlement construction. The Israeli Right sees that as a signal to legalize all the illegal outposts and launch an aggressive building boom. With Trump turning over his business to his children perhaps they will begin bidding on some of those projects, maybe starting with Kfar Trump.

• Why did the Ku Klux Klan, Grand Wizard David Duke, the neo-Nazis, the Alt-Right movement and so many other white supremacists and antisemites embrace Trump and celebrate his election? What did they see and hear from Trump that they found so appealing?

• If Trump scraps the Iran nuclear deal, either unilaterally or by making new demands that Iran rejects, will Iran then feel free to ignore the pact and start a race to the bomb? Will that launch a regional nuclear arms race? Will Israel launch a military attack, with all the risk that entails?

• Netanyahu’s Republican ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, enthusiastically welcomed Trump’s election and vouched for his top strategic adviser, Stephen Bannon, who many consider a racist, misogynist and antisemite. What does this say to the 76 percent of American Jews who voted against Trump? What does this mean for maintaining the traditional bipartisan pro-Israel consensus in the United States?

• Why are so many Jewish organizations so silent when Trump picks people to lead his government who are so hostile to so much that the Jewish community believes in? Is it because they are scared that by criticizing the mercurial and thin-skinned president- elect they might lose access to the corridors of power and invitations to the White House Hanukka party, and lose the bragging rights that access provides for fundraising appeals?

Where is the Jewish leadership’s outrage over the nomination of the Senate’s most outspoken xenophobe and opponent of immigration to be attorney general? Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) isn’t just an immigration hardliner, he’s also on the wrong side of such issues important to the Jewish community as civil rights, voting rights, LGBT rights, churchstate separation, abortion, domestic surveillance, gun safety and a broad range of civil liberties.

• If Trump keeps his promise to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem without waiting for an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, will he ignite violent protests not only in Israel and the West Bank but around the Arab world as well? What impact would the move have on Israel’s relations with peace partners Egypt and Jordan as well as its budding rapprochement with some moderate Arab states? And for America’s relations with its Arab allies?

• Does it make Israel nervous when Trump has expressed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin and a desire to establish friendly relations with Russia, which is the patron of Israel’s mortal enemies Syria, Hezbollah and Iran? Putin is selling nuclear reactors, jet fighters, advanced anti-aircraft radar and missile systems and assorted other weapons to Iran, which wants to eradicate the Jewish state. And next door in Syria, Putin is propping up his war criminal client, Bashar Assad, who once said he built an arsenal of chemical weapons just to use against Israel (he’s using them instead on his own people).

How does Israel benefit if Washington cozies up to the best friend and armorer of its worst enemies? As I watch Trump make the transition from candidate to president and put together a government, I am reminded of a story the late Israeli diplomat Meir Rosenne liked to tell about the cable he received from the Foreign Ministry sending him to Washington as ambassador. It read: “Start Worrying. Details to follow.”

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