Confounding nearly all the opinion polls, exit polls and media pundits, Donald Trump achieved an impressive victory over Democrat candidate Hilary Clinton. The fact that I am not a fan of Trump did not detract from my huge schadenfreude at the discomfiture and dismay on the left, particularly in the media which acted as a propaganda arm for the Democrats.
But what now?
Trump is undoubtedly good news for Israel. Netanyahu hailed him as a good friend of Israel, and the impression is that he is more instinctively pro-Israel, also of course having a Jewish daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren; much more so than Clinton who was surrounded by an anti-Israel clique that supported the Iran deal and Obama’s antagonism towards a strong independent Israel.
The trouble is that Trump is volatile, unexpected, and also receives support from many questionable sources, including antisemitic sections of the far right. This is not to say that Trump himself is antisemitic, far from it, but his supporters make a lot of Jews and Israelis nervous.
Nevertheless, in my humble opinion, if Trump can surround himself with experienced advisers, and can tone down his outspokenness and his volatility, we might be looking at a period of renewal for America.
Since Trump has zero experience and no record in political matters of any kind, he is rather a blank slate as far as what we can expect from him. His election promises were all great, but we are all used to politicians who promise the earth in order to get elected, only to discard those promises as soon as the doors of the White House are opened for him.
In an interesting take on the new President, puncturing our euphoria and bringing us down to earth with a bump, Jonathan Tobin in Commentary describes what Israel does not need from Trump:
What assumptions can we make about U.S. foreign policy in the next four years, especially with regard to the Middle East?The first, I think, is that the contrast between Trump’s policies and those of President Obama will not be as great as people might think.
Though Trump has spoken of wanting to “kick ISIS’s ass” and has been willing to name radical Islam as the source of the terrorist threat against the West, like Obama he is uncomfortable with asserting U.S. power. His neo-isolationist instincts and his desire to effect a rapprochement with Russia represent a change in tone from Obama. But the current administration’s decision to allow Russia freedom of action in Syria has already given Moscow what it wanted. There’s virtually nothing Trump could do to appease the Russians—including distancing the U.S. from NATO allies in Eastern Europe—that Obama hasn’t already tried with unfortunate consequences.
With respect to Iran, given Trump’s rhetoric, there is an expectation that there will be a dramatic shift in U.S. policy. But even there, the contradictions in Trump’s positions will have to be resolved before the situation is clarified. Trump has rightly denounced the nuclear agreement. But that doesn’t mean he will tear it up. Doing so would also involve conflict with Russia and Iran over Syria and the war against ISIS. Unless Trump is willing to prioritize a conflict with Iran over his desire to make nice with Moscow and avoid further conflicts, the nuclear deal will stay in place.
With respect to Israel and the Palestinians?
Barack Obama came into the presidency … thinking that the way to get it was to create more “daylight” between the U.S. and the Jewish state….
By contrast, although Trump’s grasp of policy is meager, he appears to have no such illusions about the willingness of the Palestinians to make peace or the value of American pressure on Israel. No one should be surprised if some of his campaign promises, such as his vow to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, are not fulfilled. He unnerved friends of Israel with talk of even-handedness during the primaries and his desire to strike what he called a “real-estate deal.” Still, unlike Obama, Trump isn’t obsessed with the fallacy that, if left to decide its own fate, Israel is doomed or that it must be saved from itself.
There will be intense international pressure on Trump to conform to past administration positions on pressuring Israel, but this is one issue on which his outlier approach may truly bring a break with decades of failed U.S. policies. That said, Israel and those Arab nations who look to it as a tacit ally as a result of the Iran deal will have reason to worry if Trump continues to back away from engagement in the region or bows to Russia on Iran policy.
Trump’s policies, or lack of them, might lead to worse trouble if he is not careful, as Anna Ahronheim explains in the Jerusalem Post:
Many experts have told The Jerusalem Post that they are concerned not only about a possible uptick in violence in Israel and the West Bank if Trump follows through on his electoral promises, but that Washington, Israel’s closest ally, may now be moving closer to Moscow, which was accused of interference in the US elections.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, they said that Trump’s policies in the region may be detrimental for Israel, pointing towards Trump’s soft stance on Russian involvement in Syria.
Trump has criticized Obama’s handling of the war in Syria, including against the Islamic State and stated in the October 9th presidential debate that “I don’t like Assad at all, but Assad is killing ISIS. Russia is killing ISIS and Iran is killing ISIS.”
And while Trump stated during his AIPAC speech that his “number-one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran,” promising to “stand up to Iran’s aggressive push to destabilize and dominate the region,” Moscow is supporting Tehran, both militarily and diplomatically.
Trump’s confused policies are in danger of emboldening Iran or Russia or both. Hezbollah would be a direct beneficiary of such an empowerment, thus endangering Israel.
Egypt however is very satisfied with his win, since their relations with the US were poisoned after the coup that overthrew Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood government:
Relations between Jerusalem and Cairo have increased steadily since Sisi came to power in 2013, removing the elected President of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Sisi has since cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood, designating it as a terrorist organization in Egypt.
Israel has been lobbying for an improvement of ties between Cairo and Washington. And while Cairo has been cracking down on Hamas since the removal of Morsi, Cairo has been moving closer to the Russian and Iranian sphere of influence.
Other Arab world leaders are also fed up with Obama’s limp approach to fighting ISIS, and who therefore welcomed Trump’s election.
An editorial in The Tower lays out the massive headache in the Middle East that Trump is inheriting from Obama:
Among the challenges that Trump will have deal with: wars in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen; a Kurdish push for independence; a regional power struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia; Iranian non-compliance with the nuclear deal that it signed last year; and the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Veteran foreign policy correspondent Michael Totten wrote in The Tower last week that when the next president weighs his policy options, “the best you can pull off right now is damage control.”
Speculation has risen over the past few weeks that there could be a push to influence Israeli-Palestinian negotiations via a United Nations resolution. Trump and his opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, bothstated that they were opposed to the UN imposing parameters on negotiations. They also both identified Palestinian rejectionism as a major obstacle to a peaceful solution.
Another major reason that peace has been elusive is the continued growth of the Palestinian terror group Hamas, which is armed and financed by Iran. The Islamic Republic is also backing terrorist groups and militias fighting in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen.
Raphael Ahren in the Times of Israel also cautions us against euphoria, as experts on US-Israel ties express caution on Trump’s future impact on the region:
Experts on US-Israel relations on Wednesday morning argued as to whether president-elect Donald Trump will in fact implement the unorthodox policies he promoted during the election campaign.
“Clearly, it is impossible for the United States and the international system, for the pure set of ideas articulated by Trump through the election campaign to be implemented into policy,” former Israeli ambassador to the US Itamar Rabinovich said at a panel discussion in Tel Aviv. “This would create a degree of international turmoil the world and the US will not be able to live with.”
The difference between Trump’s proposed policies and those he will try to implement might be subtle, he said, but his cabinet and advisers will undoubtedly prevent him from making drastic and irresponsible decisions.
Not everyone agrees with this assessment:
Daniel Kurtzer, a former American ambassador to Israel and Egypt, on the other hand, said that Trump’s foreign policy goals remain a mystery and could dramatically change the dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“No one quite knows what our policies might be, including a president Trump,” he said. “I don’t think Donald Trump has given any thought whatsoever to substantive policy.”
Judging from comments his advisers on Israel have made during the campaign, the world should brace for drastic changes in America’s approach to the Middle East, he continued.
“A serious possibility is now that Mr. Trump would move the American embassy to Jerusalem, would change American opposition to settlements, would support those within Israel who would be seeking to annex parts of the West Bank — in other words, to align American policy much more closely to what I guess is called the right wing of Israeli policy,” Kurtzer said.
Wise words of advice for Israel were provided by former Ambassador to the US, Sallai Meridor:
Given that Trump’s true foreign policy goals are somewhat unknown, it is crucial Israelis pay close attention to what he and his advisers are going to be saying in the next weeks and months.
“We, in Israel, need to listen,” said Meridor, who served as ambassador between 2006 and 2009. Israeli leaders visiting the Oval Office usually came prepared with a long list of items they like to discuss, and the American hosts politely listen and take notes, he said. “In this period, at the beginning, we need to be really good listeners, to see what the next president wants to achieve for America and be willing to see in which way Israel can be helpful,” Meridor said.
In its first interactions with the Trump administration, Israel should not pursue “short-term gains” and rushed decisions, he continued, referring to a possible demand to cancel the Iran nuclear agreement or quickly move the embassy to Jerusalem.
“We need to look long-term, see the implications of every move,” he said, “and not be hasty or encourage hasty moves that were not well thought through before.”
One bright spot in this dirty election campaign was the gracious way in which the two Presidents, Obama and Trump, met today in the White House as the outgoing Obama showed Trump the ropes:
They discussed foreign and domestic policy in the Oval Office for over an hour and a half. The meeting was private, one on one, without their staffs. “As far as I’m concerned, it could’ve gone a lot longer,” Trump said.
“We discussed a lot of different situations, some wonderful and some difficulties,” the president-elect said. “I very much look forward to dealing with the president in the future, including counsel. He explained some of the difficulties, some of the high-flying assets and some of the really great things that have been achieved.”
“My number-one priority in the coming two months is to try to facilitate a transition that ensures our President-elect is successful. And I have been very encouraged by the interest in President-elect Trump’s wanting to work with my team around many of the issues that this great country faces.” Obama said. “It is important for all of us, regardless of party and regardless of political preferences, to now come together, work together, to deal with the many challenges that we face.”
“If you succeed,” Obama added, “then the country succeeds.”
That is a beautiful blessing to wish on Trump and America. For once in my life I hope Obama’s words are fulfilled.