Sunday, February 12, 2017

Will there be a real Trump-Israel alliance, or not?

New US President Donald Trump has been in office less than a month. He’s barely gotten started. Yet, we’ve already seen changes in how the US treats Israel.

The change is obvious. For example, when Israel passed its “Regulation Law” on February 6, 2017 to legitimize small Jewish communities in Judea-Samaria, Trump refused to criticize or condemn the law. The only comment he made was that ‘West Bank settlement building’ “may not be helpful” to achieving peace (“New Israeli law legalizing settlements draws harsh reaction worldwide”, jweekly, February 9, 2017). Such a muted response from Trump seemed a far cry from Obama’s more strident ‘settlements’ reaction just 28/29 days earlier: “Obama says Israeli settlements making two-state solution impossible” (reuters, January 11, 2017).

Israelis noticed this difference. After the Regulation Law passed, MK Bezalel Smotrich (Jewish Home), a major advocate of the legislation, thanked the American people for electing Trump (“Israeli lawmakers pass controversial Regulation Bill to legalize West Bank outposts”,, February 6, 2017). Smotrich declared that, without the Trump election, the law might not have passed (“Israeli lawmakers pass controversial Regulation Bill to legalize West Bank outposts”,, February 6, 2017).

In a Friday, February 10, 2017 interview with the Israeli news outlet, israelhayom, Trump was asked, “Will we see America condemn Israel a lot during your Presidency?” (Boaz Bismuth, “'I won't condemn Israel, it's been through enough'”, israelhayom, February 10, 2017). Trump began his answer with, “No, I don’t want to condemn Israel…” (ibid).

While Trump’s full answer can be read more than one way, Israelis responded positively to it (see the headline, ibid). Many saw Trump as a true friend in the White House.

While Trump was giving this interview (February 10th), his US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley was blocking a UN decision to appoint a PLO official as a UN envoy (“US blocks appointment of former Palestinian PM as UN Libya envoy”, dailymail, February 11, 2017). The PLO wasn’t happy. The UN wasn’t happy. But Amb Halley was firm: she said, "For too long, the UN has been unfairly biased in favor of the Palestinian Authority to the detriment of our allies in Israel…Going forward, the United States will act, not just talk, in support of our allies" (ibid).

This statement seemed to put the US squarely in Israel’s corner. For Israelis, that was a change.

On the same day Trump and Haley were being pro-Israel (February 10th), the UN made a new decision regarding Israel. It had been preparing a report for an upcoming February 27th meeting of the UN’s Human Rights Council (UNHRC). That report was to contain a database of companies who do business in Judea-Samaria, the Golan and East Jerusalem. That database was being developed to create a blacklist for, essentially, a boycott-Israel purpose. That boycott would effectively target all of Israel because most companies that do business in Judea-Samaria, etc. also do business elsewhere in Israel.

The February 10 UN decision was simple: it said it needed more time to figure out how to build its blacklist database (Stephanie Nebehay, “Exclusive: U.N. set to defer report on companies with Israeli settlement ties”, reuters, February 10, 2017). The report suggested another reason for delay: pressure from states (like the US) which didn’t support the creation of a blacklist (ibid).  

The UN announced the database would be ‘delayed’. It didn’t give a future publication date. This seemed a win for Israel. Some attribute this win to Trump’s strong support for Israel (ibid).

That same weekend (February 11-12), the UN floated a rumour: Israel’s Tzipi Livni will be offered the post of UN Under-Secretary General (Nitzan Keidar, “Will Tzipi Livni be appointed UN Under-Secretary General?”, arutzsheva, February 12, 2017). If true, it would be a first for the Jewish state.

Such an honor has never been offered to Israel. It’s considered inconceivable that Obama would have supported it. It’s said that this offer is connected directly to Trump’s UN muscle-flexing on Israel's behalf (ibid).

So far, the only negative in all this pro-Israel news is Trump’s apparent ‘walk-back’ of his pre-election call to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. But even if such reports are true, does a walk-back signal a retreat away for Israel?

For the moment, that seems unlikely. If Trump were retreating from Israel, his UN ambassador wouldn’t have blocked a UN attempt to elevate a PLO anti-Jew, the UN wouldn’t suddenly delay a BDS-friendly anti-Israel blacklist—and no one at the UN would be suggesting an Israeli Jew be appointed to a high UN position for the first time in UN history.

Today, Trump stands strong for Israel. Because of him, the future looks bright for Israel. But will that ‘brightness’ last?

Trump is neither politician nor diplomat. He’s a deal-maker--and he's aggressive. When he gives something, he expects something in return.

Today, Trump protects Israel. Will he now expect something in return from Israel? What could that ‘something’ be?

Answer those two  questions, and you’ll know if there’s a true Trump-Israel alliance, or if Trump’s current pro-Israel support is just the opening move in a carefully planned-out ‘deal’ that will push Israel into a corner it won’t want to be in.

Stay tuned.

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