We should take advantage of any potential White House transition – opinion

Policy initiatives can be seized by Netanyahu over the coming three-month transition period.

Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu. (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu.
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
Bad actors in the Middle East are not going to sit idly on their haunches waiting for clear results in the US presidential elections. Nor should the forces of peace and stability in the Middle East miss an opening to lock in additional gains during this period of uncertainty, which makes the next three months until the end of January 2021 a time of both peril and opportunity.
Consequently, Prime Minister Netanyahu ought to expeditiously advance a series of moves that will enhance Israel’s security and regional standing, in cooperation with the still-in-place Trump administration.
At the very least, the policy initiatives listed below will keep the enemies of Israel and America at bay and set diplomatic markers that will be hard to overturn if Donald Trump is replaced by Joe Biden. And if Trump somehow prevails in the coming legal tussle over electors and absentee ballots, the stage will be set for even closer US-Israel coordination.
1. Reinforce Israeli deterrence on the borders
Whether on the southern border versus Hamas in Gaza or across the northern borders versus Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz should act to boost Israeli deterrence. This means zero tolerance for border rushes, booby traps on the fence, missile fire, incendiary kites and the like.
It means targeting Hamas leaders if they fail to maintain the current lull, striking deep inside Syria the minute IRGC bases are identified, and knocking out more Iranian nuclear sites through subterfuge with continued clear US backing for this “war between the wars.”
2. Squeeze Iran harder
Since a Biden administration intends to reengage Iran on the basis of the weak nuclear JCPOA accord that was concluded by president Obama (and later jettisoned by Trump), now is the time to increase pressure on Iran’s leaders. In addition to tougher banking sanctions on Iran led by the US, a few Soleimani-style strikes on key Iranian terrorist leaders and sites could be helpful too.
After all, the International Atomic Energy Agency has confirmed that Iran is building a new underground, advanced centrifuge-assembly plant in Natanz, after its last one exploded in a reported sabotage attack in July. Should the Iranians be allowed to advance this project? I think not. This may explain why US Defense Secretary Mark Esper has met twice with his Israeli counterpart in the last two weeks.
In addition, a strong signal of deterrence would be sent by a few select US legal prosecutions of major European companies now doing big business in Iran, in violation of America’s redeclared sanctions.
3. Rule emphatically in Area C
Preserving what is left of Israel’s de facto sovereign control in Area C of Judea and Samaria means legalizing a series of settlement outposts, approving road and other infrastructure projects that will benefit both Jewish and Arab residents of this area, and dismantling illegal Bedouin and Palestinian settlements that (purposefully) impinge on strategic routes. This includes the encampment called Khan al-Ahmar that was erected in E-1 to deliberately challenge Israeli control of the Jerusalem envelope.
Even the less-than-right-wing Israeli Supreme Court has okayed the plan to move the Bedouin elsewhere, so no European Union or Democratic Party protests or International Criminal Court threats should dissuade the government from acting forthwith.
4. Abolish the Palestinian propaganda apparatus at the United Nations
Eliminating the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and the Division for Palestinian Rights, created at the UN in the aftermath of the infamous 1975 “Zionism is Racism” resolution, would send a clear message to the Palestinians that there is no more international backing for their perpetual, zero-sum war with Israel. The US can encourage this by another massive funding cut to the UN. And when a dozen or so ritual anti-Israel resolutions are brought forward over the next two weeks for their annual approval at the UN, the US should lean heavily on its global partners to dismiss them.
None of these resolutions, by the way, welcome the new peace accords between Israel and Islamic states in the Gulf and Africa. Only at the UN (and in some European councils) can such ostrich-like attitudes live on.
5. Expel the UN from Jerusalem
Hostile UN agencies sit on prime Jerusalem real estate on Ammunition Hill and in Armon Hanatziv in Jerusalem – including the very-problematic United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). It is time to give these agencies the boot, and to end UNRWA educational programs in eastern Jerusalem schools too.
The enormous campus occupied by the UN high up on the “Hill of Evil Counsel” in Armon Hanatziv could provide magnificent embassy space for several countries with newly established ties to Israel, such as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
6. Curb Turkey’s destabilizing ambitions
Turkey’s Islamist dictator, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is now claiming half of the Eastern Mediterranean as Turkish territorial waters (all the way to Libya) in an attempt to block Israel’s planned gas pipeline to Europe. He continues his aggressive interventionism in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Gaza and Jerusalem too.
While Trump has been (overly) protective of Erdogan, it is time for the US president to at least speak out against Turkey’s hegemonic contentions, in support of the informal French-Egyptian-Greek-Cypriot-Israeli alliance that stands against Erdogan.
Erdogan also is the instigator of the accelerating world-wide Islamic attacks on France and French targets in the wake of controversy over “insulting” cartoons. Trump is the right person to bluntly call out Erdogan’s dangerous muckraking (as Biden should also do if he moves into the White House).
7. Expand the Abraham Accords circle of peace
Nothing will better solidify the fantastic new Mideast dynamic that is strengthening Israeli and Western interests (while weakening Iran, Turkey, Russia and the radicals among Palestinians) than a few more peace accords between Israel and Arab/Islamic states. Niger, Morocco, Oman and Saudi Arabia should be steered next toward reconciliation with Israel.
This requires intensive, high-level American diplomacy with concrete offers on the table of US military and diplomatic backing. It also requires continuing stiff American resolve in opposing Iran’s hegemonic designs in the region (as above). It also requires resisting the temptation to over-prioritize the Palestinian issue, to which an incoming Biden administration may fall prey.
This surge of regional interest in partnering with Israel can be fostered further by the Jewish-Islamic religious reconciliation discourse that underlies the Abraham Accords. I find this one of the most luminous aspects of the recent peace deals: warm peace with real people-to-people engagement, buttressed by a reconsideration of Islam’s place in the modern world and of Islam’s relationship to its ancient brothers, the Jews.
The lending of religious legitimacy to Arab peace with Israel, by referencing the Abrahamic common heritage of Arabs and Jews, implicitly acknowledges that Jews are indigenous to the Land of Israel. This is a mammoth transformation in the Arab approach to Israel, and the bluntest-ever rejection of the ongoing Palestinian campaign to deny and even criminalize the Jewish people’s historic rights in Israel.
This hopeful, dazzling new discourse must be driven onward and upward by the American president and Israeli prime minister.
The writer is vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, jiss.org.il. His personal site is davidmweinberg.com