American media and officials are at full steam about secret or back channel talks between Trump personnel and Russian officials, both during the campaign and after the inauguration. One major appointee, Michael Flynn, who served briefly as the President's national security adviser, has already paid with his appointment and may pay more for his problematic involvement with Russians.
So far the storm of revelations has produced the appointment of a former FBI head as what's been called variously Special Prosecutor and Special Counsel. Journalists and politicians up to Hillary Clinton are talking about the exit route of Richard Nixon, and suggesting that a Trump resignation is likely before the election of 2020.
There's been comment about Trump's passing around his personal cell phone number to other heads of state, and inviting them to call him directly. The President seems ignorant or unconcerned about the ease of tapping cell phone chatter, and the parallels to his rants about Hillary's use of private e-mail.
And there's a presidential tweet that no one can interpret.
Reports that he's inclined to pull the US out of a treaty for climate control is delighting Republicans, and convincing allies that he's both nutty and unreliable.
One can argue the merits of global warming et al. However, there is no country better placed, economically, to have an impact and set a standard for Chinese polluters who, together with Americans do more than anyone else to contribute to whatever is wrong with the environment..
The question that begs discussion is Why the fuss about speaking with Russians?
One can be certain that discreet, back channel, or secret talks occurred before and after the election and inauguration between key Trump people, and maybe Trump himself, with officials or prominent activists of Israel and a number of other countries likely to figure in the foreign policy of the new government. Britain, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, and China come to mind as obvious places concerned about intentions of the new President.
Commentators described an Israel-centered combine of Benyamin Netanyahu and Sheldon Adelson on Trump's side in the campaign, but without the uproar associated with claims of Russian help for Trump.
The Adelson-financed pro-Netanyahu newspaper, Israel Hayom, produced a large front page headline about Hillary's e-mail troubles a week prior to the election.
The best, but not entirely satisfying answer for the focus of nastiness about conversations with Russia may be nothing more than the soiled reputation of Russia in American politics. That country's been a problem for the US since the Communist Revolution. The status of the Soviet Union was only partially refurbished during an alliance to defeat the Nazis, but even that had its difficult moments, and the nastiness returned in greater vigor with the onset of the Cold War. The collapse of the Soviet Union produced cheering throughout the West, but more recently problems and sanctions, concerned especially with Russian action with respect to Ukraine and the key role that Russians are providing in support of Bashar al-Assad and Iran.
There's worry that Russia used disinformation to influence the outcome of the American election, but little evidence that their schemes--if they existed--had significant influence on the voters.
The case of Michael Flynn suggests that the fall of Trump personnel, and maybe the President himself, may occur not so much on account of talks with Russians but due to lying about those contacts. Jared Kushner is tasting the problems of not being entirely candid, and it's popular to remind Americans that Richard Nixon fell not because of an initial wrongdoing but on account of a clumsy effort at covering up the involvement of himself and key aides.
The unraveling of Nixon's presidency required more than two years between the Watergate break-in and the resignation. More than a year passed between the appointment of a Special Prosecutor and the President's wave goodbye and flight to California.
Israeli officials are also targeting high officials.
The police have already interviewed more than 90 people associated with various allegations against the Prime Minister. Reports are that ranking officers are inclined to recommend an indictment, but the prosecutor is likely to pour over the file and pursue an independent inquiry before bringing charges capable of toppling Netanyahu.
The clouds over both US and Israeli heads of state have not gotten in the way of some quiet, but optimistic signs that may indicate progress on the Palestinian front.
It's much too early to prepare for a ceremony of success. Indeed, the signs are of more open and partial accommodation than anything like the declaration of a Palestinian state and the proclaimed end of dispute.
Extreme optimists may see the signs as pointing toward a building a trust that will eventually produce a Palestinian state and a peace agreement. More careful optimists see them as firming up existing arrangements that allow Israelis and Palestinians to live alongside one another with only limited instances of violence.
One of those signs is the end of a prisoners' hunger strike in exchange for a partial achievement of their demands.
Another are comments from the Muslim religious authority (Waqf) in charge of the Temple Mouint/Harm esh-Sharif/Nobel Sanctuary that it will consider allowing Jews to visit the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque. Both have been closed to Jews since the stormy visit to the Temple Mount of Ariel Sharon in 2000 that helped produce a bloody wave of violence.
There is also serious consideration given to the hiving off from Jerusalem of Palestinian neighborhoods, creating them as separate local authorities within Israel, as well as allowing Palestinian home building in an area of the West Bank controlled by Israel.
Yet all of the above may fall along with Donald Trump and Benyamin Netanyahu, or the increased efforts of both to deal with legal and political challenges to key aides, themselves, and--in Netanyahu's case--the controversial Mrs. Netanyahu. The prospect of changing the status of Jerusalem neighborhoods or allowing Palestinian settlement in areas of the West Bank controlled by Israel are hot buttons, capable of inflaming ideologues on the right who sense the Prime Minister's weakness.
It's not helping Bibi that his Interior Minister, former jailbird Ariyeh Deri, is on the hot seat once again, this time along with Mrs. Deri, plus a brother, daughter, and several others suspected of financial monkey business with a smell of corruption. Deri served 22 months in prison for corruption while Interior Minister, and had to sit out a period of political inactivity before returning to lead the SHAS party. His record made his current appointment as Interior Minister controversial, and these police investigations may add to the problems of the Prime Minister who appointed him.
The cartoonist for Ha'aretz portrayed Deri sweating in an interview room, with a police officer expressing the Hebrew equivalent of, "You look familiar."
Neither Israelis nor Americans should be all that sure about the people currently running their governments.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem