Reality Check: Hitching Israel to Trump’s horse might not be smart

Israel is only one of four countries worldwide whose support for US leadership has significantly increased under President Trump.

SHOULD ISRAEL follow him?  (photo credit: REUTERS)
SHOULD ISRAEL follow him?
(photo credit: REUTERS)
With barely a chance to breathe after returning home from his Bollywood love fest with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now excitingly preparing to host another world leader close to his heart: US Vice President Mike Pence. So much more fun than having to apologize for his eldest son’s crude conversations or getting ready for yet another round of police questioning.
As far as Netanyahu is concerned, Pence’s visit to Jerusalem could not have come at a better time. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ recent fierce and insult-laden speech condemning US President Donald Trump’s proposals for a Middle East peace “deal of the century” was music to Netanyahu’s ears.
Given Abbas’s flat refusal to countenance any American-sponsored negotiations with Israel, his blasting of Israel as a “colonial project” and the Palestinians’ decision to boycott the Trump administration and Pence’s visit to the region, Netanyahu will feel free to insist in his meetings with US vice president that any talk of a two-state solution is dead and buried.
And it’s unlikely he’ll meet with any opposition from his high-ranking guest. According to a senior US administration official briefing reporters before Pence left for the region, the conservative Christian vice president was key in persuading Trump to go ahead with his declaration last month recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Despite the opposition of America’s allies in the Arab world, most of the Western international community and the advice of American intelligence and diplomatic officials, Pence made a forceful “closing argument” in favor of the move at a White House Situation Room meeting.
It was of course this Jerusalem declaration, alongside Abbas’ fears of an emerging US plan to propose a Palestinian mini-state in only some of the land captured by Israel in the Six Day War, which sparked the Palestinian leader’s angry speech. But for US Evangelical Christians, a crucial component of the Trump base, taking Palestinian views into account is an irrelevance.
Pence’s planned visit to the Western Wall on Tuesday will play well both back home among Trump supporters and his Israeli hosts.
But before we Israelis get too carried away in this feeling of rapture of having a markedly pro-Israel administration in charge of the White House, we should acknowledge the fact that we’re very much in the minority here. Israel is only one of four countries worldwide whose support for US leadership has significantly increased under President Trump. And we’re not in great company: the other countries expressing a preference for Trump over his predecessor Barack Obama according to a poll published by Gallup this month are Belarus, Macedonia and Liberia.
Back in the US, Trump is not sitting so pretty either. With the US government going into shutdown for the first time in five years, the end of Trump’s first year in office is marked by chaos.
Given that the Republicans control all levers of power – the presidency, Senate and the House of Representatives – it does make one wonder just how good a deal-maker Trump is following his abject failure here.
Notably, despite improvements in the American economy over the last year, Trump is still the most unpopular US president at the one-year mark since 1945. The FiveThirtyEight website notes that Trump’s net approval rating (approval rating minus disapproval rating), is minus 15 percentage points, the only US president (for whom there is data) in negative territory one year through his first term.
So firmly hitching the Israeli carriage to Trump’s horse might not be the smartest move an Israeli prime minister could make, but given Netanyahu’s own worldview – and his indebtedness to Trump patron Sheldon Adelson – it’s unlikely we’ll see a change here.
Which is not good news for Israel’s future.
While the country’s Right is celebrating, post-Abbas speech, the lack of any Palestinian partner with whom to hold any form of dialogue, the question still remains as to what happens to the future of the West Bank territories Israel has occupied since 1967.
If there is no two-state solution, the choices facing Israel are stark: an apartheid Israeli state in which Israel has full sovereignty over all of the land but the Palestinians are not recognized as full citizens, something which would signal the end of Israel as a democratic state; or a bi-national state in which both Jews and Palestinians have full citizenship, which will soon spell the end of Israel as a Jewish state.
Hardly a cause for celebration, despite whatever Netanyahu or Pence might say this week.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.