President Trump, when campaigning, made several promises in dealing with Israel and her existential threats. First, he promised to tear up the “disastrous” Iran deal. Second, he promised to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, in accordance with the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 (JEA).
The devil is always in the details for these kinds of promises, and Trump has left both promises unfulfilled by echoing the same policies of his predecessor.
Every six months, in accordance with the JEA, the president must renew a waiver to suspend the move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, or face an automatic clawback of 50 percent of the State Department’s appropriated budget.
Every president since Clinton has dutifully completed this pro-forma exercise twice a year, while paying lip service (if even that) to the law’s other provisions. These are:
(1) Jerusalem should remain an undivided city in which the rights of every ethnic and religious group are protected.
(2) Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel;
While Trump joked and smiled with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he has also reportedly decided to sign the waiver, just like former President Obama did.
And Trump gave the red carpet treatment to Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, who is in a unity government with Hamas, a group unswervingly devoted to Israel’s destruction (regardless of what “moderating” story the media is pushing).
Further, Trump isn’t reticent to deal with Arab strongmen like Egypt’s Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. Obama had a very cold spot in his heart for strongmen, favoring an “Arab spring” giving the people power (we’ve seen how that worked out). Yet Abbas, al-Sisi and other Gulf Arab monarchs and emirs are much more comfortable dealing with deal-making Trump than the erstwhile president who preceded him.
But with Abbas being fêted in the White House, and standing next to the new American president, his status and authority as Palestinian president is practically unassailable. He joins those pro-American Arab leaders, almost all his regional allies, such as the Gulf Arab monarchs and Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, as one of Washington’s “traditional Middle Eastern partners” who were estranged under Obama but who are now being warmly embraced by Trump.
Netanyahu wasn’t smiling after Abbas’ public remarks from the White House, posting his response on Facebook.
“I look forward to discussing with President Trump the best ways to advance peace. This is something we fervently share with the President. I heard President Abbas yesterday say that the Palestinians teach their children peace. That’s unfortunately not true. They name their schools after mass murderers of Israelis and they pay terrorists. But I hope that it’s possible to achieve a change and to pursue a genuine peace. This is something Israel is always ready for. I’m always ready for genuine peace.”
The Israeli PM also slammed the media for their fawning over the Palestinian position and Hamas’ removal of its desire to kill all Jews worldwide from its guiding documents–they only want to kill Israelis now. At least Trump and Netanyahu have that in common: they both know how to call out “fake news.”
The question is what will Trump do in pursuit of a deal? At some point, the interests of Israelis in living within secure borders and without an internationally protected staging area for its enemies to launch invasions directly into its heart may come into conflict with the cause of obtaining “peace.” When that happens, where will Trump land?
The biggest near-term threat to Israel is nuclear annihilation by Iranian missiles. One dirty warhead launched into the heart of Tel Aviv is all it will take to destroy Israel. Iran is a big country. Even with Israel’s guaranteed nuclear response, Iran wins and Israel ceases to exist. This isn’t a negotiating point, it’s a strategic fact. The only option Israel has is to prevent Iran from ever getting the chance to execute this plan.
In 1981, Israeli F-16 pilots destroyed Saddam Hussein’s Osirak reactor. In the early 2000’s, the U.S., probably with Israel’s help, deployed Stuxnet, which wreaked havoc on Iran’s nuclear uranium enrichment facilities. Following that, the Obama administration negotiated the Iran nuclear deal with the P6+1.
Now Trump’s administration, in its required statement to the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency’s Board of Governors, has adopted language identical to the Obama administration.
“The United States will approach questions of JCPOA interpretation, implementation, and enforcement with great strictness indeed,” the statement to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) 35-nation board said, citing the deal’s full name: the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
So much for tearing up “the worst deal ever negotiated.”
As bad as Obama was in dealing with Israel–which was mostly a personal vendetta against Netanyahu, who he despised–the former president supported Israel’s defense. In 2014, Obama approved $225 million to fund the expansion of Israel’s Iron Dome system, after previous rounds of funding for the system’s initial development.
In the end, Obama, despite the mutual antipathy with the Israeli PM, continued every policy of military cooperation and funding for Israel, even going beyond former President George W. Bush. Only at the very end did Obama’s petty, parting shot find its mark in the anti-Israel UN.
Sure, Trump’s position in the UN, and his absolutely terrific UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, are much friendlier to Israel than the Obama-Kerry cold shoulder. But, really, the UN is a dog with very little bite, unless the U.S., Russia, or China decide to do something. The UN is basically window dressing, while the pressing issues of Israeli security require dealing with details.
Trump talks the talk well enough on Israel and the fate of Jews worldwide, but so far, he’s very far from walking the walk. Continuing Obama’s Israel and Iran policies might not make him more of an enemy within liberal Jewish political groups (most of whom hate him simply because he breathes air), but it doesn’t necessarily make him Israel’s friend either.
The jury is still out on that question. There are still many opportunities for Trump to keep his promises, but I think he’s more interested in deals than promises.