The Capitol riots cast a moral stain on many of US President Donald Trump's supportive policies toward the Jewish state, which had already been undermined by his initial refusal to concede the elections.
In the normative course of events, Trump would have immediately accepted his November defeat and then worked for two months to shore up his four-year legacy, including attempts to help cement them with bi-partisan support.
But Trump lost crucial time by fighting the election results, rather than focusing on maximizing his remaining moments.
This would have been particularly important with regard to his policies on Israel. The Jewish state had benefited from his go-it-alone, US cowboy attitude, which allowed him to ignore international and domestic opinion in pursuit of policies he believed were right.
In a way, it could only have been an out-of-the-box politician like Trump – willing to throw away the rule book and buck the international community when needed – who could have taken the stands he took on Israel.
Past politicians, no matter how supportive, were never able to vary far from an internationally proscribed script on Israel, particularly when it came to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
That worked well when Trump was in office. Had he been re-elected, the extra time could have cemented some of the actions which drew “Israel’s best friend ever in the White House” accolades while in power.
But the absence of international and bi-partisan support combined with his shortened tenure now means that there may be little international and/or domestic will to carry those policies over into a Democratic presidency.
Any right-wing Israeli government will have a hard time in the coming years pressing the Biden administration to uphold policy decisions made by a Republican Trump administration.
In light of the Capitol riots, now it will have to argue that the international policies of a president who struggled to discern how the actions of the Capitol rioters were problematic, should still be respected when it came to Israel.
As a result, gains Israel enjoyed during Trump’s four years could easily be erased. Then there are actions by his administration which in and of themselves created problems for Israel, in spite of Trump's supportive stance.
Here is a list of six gains:
1 - The Abraham Accords
Trump was the first US President since his predecessor, Bill Clinton, under whom agreements were signed to normalize ties with Israel’s Arab neighbors. In its last months, the Trump administration brokered the Abraham Accords, under whose rubric normalization deals were reached for the first time with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan. Ties were also re-established with Morocco after they were severed two decades ago.
The Accords ended the 18-year freeze the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative had placed on such ties, which insisted that Israel could only have relations with its neighbors upon resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Now, Israel is free to publicly pursue regional alliances.
These accords have wide support within the international community and have also been viewed positively by Biden and the Democratic Party. They are most likely to remain one of Trump’s most significant policy achievements for Israel and the one with the best chance of survival in the coming years.
2 - Iran
In 2018, Trump pulled the United States out of the Iran deal reached three years prior under the Obama administration between Tehran and six world powers. It was designed to curb Iran’s ambitions to develop a nuclear weapons program.
Israel opposed the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, because it believes that it left Iran in a position to become a nuclear power and did not address its ballistic missiles program. It also held that the removal of sanctions provided Iran with necessary cash to support regional and global terror. The US also reimposed crippling economic sanctions against Iran as part of a maximum pressure campaign.
The US and Israel were alone in this stance and were never able to galvanize international or European support. Biden has already spoken of his desire to return to the Iran deal.
3 - Jerusalem
Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, without geographical distinction as to which part of the city he was referring to. Many in the international community believe that Jerusalem is not part of Israel. Those that do, solely extend that recognition to west Jerusalem, without simultaneously holding that it’s the country’s capital. Most foreign embassies are therefore located in Tel Aviv.
The US in 2018 relocated its embassy to Jerusalem, a move that Biden is unlikely to reverse. Only Guatemala followed America’s example and moved its embassy. The Dominican Republic, Honduras, Brazil, Serbia, Kosovo and the Czech Republic have all spoken of opening embassies in Jerusalem.
This year, the US allowed American citizens born in Jerusalem to register their country of birth as Israel if they so choose, a move previously prohibited.
Trump was the first sitting US President to visit east Jerusalem, making a historic stop at one of Judaism's most sacred sites, the Western Wall. Trump, however, never officially recognized Israeli sovereignty over east Jerusalem, which had been under Jordanian control prior to the 1967 Six Day War. Israel applied Israeli law to the eastern part of the city after the war and formally annexed it in 1980. No country has acknowledged that sovereignty.
In his peace plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Trump recognized that Israel had a right to retain most of Jerusalem within its sovereign borders in any final status arrangement for a two-state resolution to the conflict with the Palestinians. That plan, along with other policy decisions by the US, is often viewed as a form of de facto recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the city.
4 - Golan Heights
In 2019, Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria during the Six Day War in 1967. Israel formally annexed that territory in 1981. No other country, save for the US, has supported that declaration.
5 - The United Nations
Trump is the only US president under whose tenure the UN Security Council failed to approve any anti-Israel resolutions or issue any statements of condemnation.
The US is one of five permanent members of the 15-nation body, and has veto power over resolutions and unified statements. Trump used that power to block any anti-Israeli resolutions at the UNSC.
Until his tenure, former US president Barack Obama had the most positive track record at the UNSC. Obama, who was a two-term president, blocked all anti-Israel resolutions at the Security Council for seven years. It’s the longest period the UNSC has ever gone, since the creation of the state, without approving a resolution against Israel.
Obama broke his own record, when in December 2016, a month before leaving office, he instructed the US to abstain on UNSC Resolution 2334 condemning Israeli settlement activity.
During Trump’s four years in office, the US stood with Israel in every UN forum and voted against every resolution against it. Its officials spoke often about UN bias against the Jewish state. To underscore this point, the Trump administration withdrew from two of the UN bodies with a contentious history on anti-Israel votes: the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
The Trump administration, however, was not able to touch the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which is the primary body for Palestinian refugees. Its mandate is under the control of the UN General Assembly where the Palestinians have an automatic majority. The US, however, halted its funding to UNRWA, which had amounted to $350 million annually and had made it the organization’s largest single country donor.
6 - West Bank settlements
The Trump administration dismissed the policy long held by past administrations that West Bank settlements were a stumbling block to peace. It was a stance that went far beyond stopping all criticism of such activity to actual supporting Israel's historic and religious rights to portions of that area. Trump's support for Jewish presence in the West Bank was spearheaded by his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the ideology behind it was named for him. It overturned past understandings of Israeli activity as illegal as expressed in the Hansell Memorandum of 1978, a State Department memo that claimed Israeli settlements violate international law, and determined instead that it was not inconsistent with international law. This legitimization of settlement activity, often spoken of as the Pompeo doctrine, included US officials referring to the area as "Judea and Samaria" rather than the West Bank. The Trump administration envisioned Israel retaining its settlements rather than evacuating them. As such, past terms of reference such as "settlement blocs" versus "isolated settlements" were eliminated from the diplomatic lexicon, as was the idea of the pre-1967 lines as a relevant geographical term. The doctrine stated that in its dealing with Israel, it would not distinguish between territories on either side of the Green Line in the West Bank. This included allowing Jewish product exports to the US that were produced over the pre-1967 lines in east Jerusalem or the West Bank to be labeled as made in Israel. US Ambassador David Friedman was the first US official in this position to break past taboo on crossing over the pre-1967 line, visiting Jewish areas of east Jerusalem and the West Bank. Pompeo, in his visit to Israel, became the highest-ranking US official to visit a Jewish area in the West Bank, when he went to the Psagot Winery in the Shaar Binyamin Industrial Park.
Here is the list of four losses:
1- Israeli-Palestinian talks
Trump was the first president since Clinton not to launch direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians. The impasse had occurred during the Obama years, when Israeli-Palestinian negotiations fell apart. Obama was not able to revive them, and neither was Trump. He unveiled his peace plan late – only in January of last year.
The Palestinians rejected it, as has the international community. Biden is expected to react similarly to it, and as such, it will likely be permanently shelved. This includes its supportive stance of Israel’s eventual annexation of 30% of the West Bank.
2 - Israel's Qualitative Military Edge
Israel's ability to defend itself in the region has relied on the American commitment to helping it maintain its Qualitative Military Edge, by exclusively providing it with the most advanced military weaponry in the region. The US pursuit of a regional alliance against Iran in the Middle East – and the arms sales agreement it signed with the United Arab Emirates on the sidelines of the Abraham Accords – raised questions with respect to the commitment of the Trump administration to what had been one of the sacrosanct pillars of the Israeli-US relations. The Biden administration has already said that it would review Trump arms sales agreements to the region with an eye to ensuring that Israel's QME is maintained.
3 - Bi-partisan US support for Israel
Trump's pro-Israel policies and his tight alignment with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government reaped positive benefits for Israel, including sending a global message to the country's enemies that one of the strongest countries in the world had its back. But the manner in which those ties were handled helped erode bi-partisan support for Israel. For decades the Jewish state has maintained its close ties with the United States, by placing it above partisan politics, rather than making it a Republican or Democratic issue. Trump, however, attempted to align the two, stating that Jews who voted for the Democratic Party were "disloyal."
4 - Israel's ties with US Jews
Trump's use of populist language and his failure to condemn the extreme right in the United States, including those who participated in the march in Charlottesville, Virginia, is cited as helping create a climate of antisemitism. According to the web site Statista, antisemitism in the US had been rising since 2014, but it jumped 57% during Trump's first year in office, when compared with just the previous year. The numbers remained high during his time in office. Israel's tight relations with the administration that made US Jews feel so vulnerable, as well as Netanyahu's failure to call Trump on the matter, strained Israel's ties with one of its more significant allies within the United States, the Jewish community. American Jews had long felt that the Jewish state was important to ensuring its security both at home and abroad. During the Trump years, it seems as if the needs of Jews in Israel and those in the United States were divided rather than united, making Israel seem less relevant to US Jewry.