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DATE IMPORTED: October 10, 2016 Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speak during their presidential town hall debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., October 9, 2016. .(Photo by: REUTERS)
Trump or Clinton: The Israeli interest
Beyond past experience with the GOP, Trump’s own assertions have been anything but “pro-Israel” in the traditional and right-wing sense of the term.
‘He will advance Israel, he will open an embassy in Jerusalem, we must demonstrate for the election of Donald Trump, he is good for the Jews,” writes Yossi Cohen, a fan of the Facebook page Trump White & Blue.

The argument arises in a context in which the GOP candidate receives ongoing positive coverage in the daily tabloid Israel Hayom, owned by Republican mega-donor and long-time supporter of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Sheldon Adelson.

It is also echoing the message “Trump – the Israeli Interest” advanced by the Trump campaign in Israel, with headquarters based in the West Bank, giving out T-shirts and buttons and other accessories tailored to the Israeli-American voter, and a support rally next Wednesday in Jerusalem. This is a first formal attempt in US political history to woo Israeli-American voters, a significant electorate of about 350,000 eligible voters from different states, which is thought to be more right-leaning than the overwhelmingly progressive Jewish vote in the US.

One of the chief concerns that Israeli-American voters have is, quite naturally, the next administration’s policy toward the State of Israel, and to what extent it is likely to pressure the Israeli government on the Palestinian issue.

That impression is understandable considering Netanyahu’s alliance with the GOP. Not only is he financially supported by Adelson, but his appointed ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, was involved in efforts to advance Governor Mitt Romney into the White House in 2012, and in 2015 he was invited by House Speaker John Boehner (Rep.) to address to a joint meeting of Congress to advocate against the administration’s policy on Iran. Furthermore, Netanyahu clashed repeatedly with Democratic presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama throughout his four terms as prime minister.

The perception is, however, coincidental at best, and when observing the history of US-Israeli relations, it appears to be wholly wrong.

President Reagan was the first to recognize and begin a dialogue with the PLO, in 1988, to the indignation of prime minister Yitzhak Shamir.

President George H. W. Bush dragged Shamir into the Madrid Conference and pressured him to become the first Israeli leader to negotiate with the Palestinians.

He also held up $10 billion in loan guarantees that Israel needed to build housing for Russian immigrants until he was assured this money would not fund settlements. His secretary of state, James Baker, famously publicly slammed Israel for dragging its feet on the peace process, saying, “When you’re serious about peace, call us.”

Then there was president George W. Bush, who despite warm relations with prime minister Ariel Sharon was the first US president to explicitly call for the founding of a Palestinian state, endorsed the Arab Peace Initiative and demanded a settlement freeze and a dismantling of all illegal outposts in a detailed timeline – the Road Map – which he proposed to the UN Security Council. This was done despite 14 reservations raised by the Sharon government, and was probably a key factor propelling it to initiate the disengagement from the Gaza Strip.

Beyond past experience with the GOP, Trump’s own assertions have been anything but “pro-Israel” in the traditional and right-wing sense of the term. In February 2016 Trump pledged to be a “neutral guy” when it comes to negotiating an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty, promising to give it “a hell of a shot.”

In March 2016 Trump had lumped the Jewish state in with other countries that benefit from US security assistance, saying they can pay “big league” for it. Trump’s campaign was further stained by re-tweeting blatantly anti-Semitic memes and comments, from the likes of David Duke and other American neo-Nazis. Detached from the Republican climate, Trump’s record on Israel sounds more like the vision of a far-right-wing nationalist niche party in Europe.

On the other hand, Wikileaks recently revealed Hillary Clinton supporting “façade peace talks” over “nothing.”

This matches her record as secretary of state, who showed very limited interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, unlike her husband and President Obama himself during his first term, or her successor, John Kerry.

Prime Minister Netanyahu would most likely welcome such a position of the next US president.

Israeli-American voters, who don’t find Trump’s racist and misogynist discourse, failed record in business and zero experience in governance to be disqualifying, should reconsider his positions on Israel along with Republican presidents’ policies on Israel.

Finally, also those who would like to see the next administration involved in the peace process, as ending the occupation is in Israel’s interest, should not want Trump’s recklessness anywhere near the negotiation room.

And even if Hillary Clinton’s presidency means a diplomatic stalemate – it would be better for the world at large. It would sustain America as a hub of liberalism in a world turning to hyper-nationalism and religious fundamentalism, it would better counter dictators like Russian President Vladimir Putin and it would inspire women and girls around the world to claim leadership roles, too. Israeli-American readers would do well to consider this a part of the Israeli interest too.

The writer is a non-American Israeli political and social activist.
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