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Trump Tower, New York,photo by Rhonda Spivak

 
EDITOR'S REPORT: WHAT EXACTLY ARE DONALD TRUMP'S POSITIONS ON ISRAEL ? IS THERE A COHERENT POLICY ?

by Rhonda Spivak, November 15, 2016

 

 

 

Donald Trump took a number of positions on Israel that many of us may not have paid much attention to, since the mainstream media in the United States had virtually crowned Hillary Clinton to be the winner of the election, and additionally the issue of Israel was not once that featured prominently.
 
 I would like to review Trumps stated positions on Israel, and give some  reflections as to what his policy could be on a number of Israel issues.
 
But from the beginning , it's worth noting that , Ha'aretz  got a copy of the assessment of Trump by Israeli government professionals: “Trump has expressed contradictory positions on key issues and it isn’t clear if this reflects a practical policy,” the analysts said.
 
Trump is a "wild card" making predictions difficult. But his apparent top chocie for Secretary of state Rudy Juliani would be very pro-Israel and vice-president Mike Pence also is very pro-Israel. 
 
1.Trump has promised to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, to move  the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This would be a "game changer" if he followed through. Other presidential candidates have promised this but never have done it. One of Trump’s key advisers on Israel David Friedman right after the election told the Jerusalem Post that Trump would follow through on his promise. ‘It was a campaign promise and there is every intention to keep it,” Friedman said. But another adviser Walid Phares, a Lebanese -born Maronite Christian and American scholar has said that the US embassy will only be moved to Jerusalem under "consensus."  Since the Palestinians and other Arab states won't agree to this  I immediately assumed that there won't be "consensus." But if Trump was referring to the US Congress and Senate agreeing to Trump's move then there would be American "consensus." What consensus was Trump talking about? Is Freidman or Phares correct? Is it  possible Trump has been telling different things to different advisers, or did Phares not understand what Trump was really saying? 
 
 NPR.ORG says that  Walid Pharis said that Trump would "create consensus at home" before moving the embassy, but what Trump meant exactly by that is not clear.

http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2016/11/15/502195135/trump-favors-moving-u-s-embassy-to-jerusalem-but-many-worry

 

 

I don't count on the US embassy  being moved to Jerusalem, but I think it is  possible-if anyone would do it, it would be Trump, with his Sabbath observant  daughter and three Jewish grandchildren. It would be  a "game changer" if the embassy were moved, because the Palestinians and Arab States up to now have been successful in preventing this from happening. In theory why shouldn't the US be able to move their embassy to West Jerusalem in pre-67 Israel ? How possibly could the Palestinians object to this? It would not foreclose East Jerusalem being a capital of a Palestinian state.The only objection would be if  we say that Israel shouldn't exist at all, which certainly isn't US policy.  Moving the US embassy to West Jerusalem would not foreclose East Jerusalem being a capital of an eventual Palestinian state

 
Evangelical Christians who voted for Trump and are part of his electoral base would be delighted if Trump made this move. The Palestinians appear to  be afraid of this move being realized since the PA has just threatened to make the US "miserable" at the UN if the embassy is moved to Jerusalem.
 
Netanyahu so far appears to  has been very pleased with Trump's election-could Netanyahu already know that Trump really will move the embassy?
 
If the Embassy were really to be moved, it would likely happen right at the outset of Trump' presidency, I would assume. We'll know soon enough.
 
 
2. The Republican party platform has walked away from a two state solution.
 
The previous Republican platform, adopted in 2012, supported a two-state solution, stating that Republicans “envision two democratic states — Israel with Jerusalem as its capital and Palestine — living in peace and security.”
 
But on July 12 2016, the Republican party approved on July 12 a platform that does not include a call for a two-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.  Rather, it defers to Israel to determine whether it is interested in negotiating a deal with the Palestinians, and omits any reference to a solution that would establish an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

 

“The U.S. seeks to assist in the establishment of comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East, to be negotiated among those living in the region,” the Republican platform states. “We oppose any measures intended to impose an agreement or to dictate borders or other terms, and call for the immediate termination of all U.S. funding of any entity that attempts to do so. Our party is proud to stand with Israel now and always.”

 

The Platform certainly suggests that a Trump administration is not going to pressure Israel, like the Obama administration has, to cede territory in order to establish an independent Palestinian state.

 

Trump gave his first interview to Sheldon Adelson's Israel Yisrael Hayom Newspaper (Adelson was a major Trump supporter) and he specifically noted that he would not impose a solution: "I believe that my administration can play a significant role in helping the parties to achieve a just, lasting peace -- which must be negotiated between the parties themselves, and not imposed on them by others. Israel and the Jewish people deserve no less," the president-elect said.

 

He has also said in an interview with the Wall  Street Journal that he would like to do the "ultimate deal " between Israelis and Palestinians.' As a deal maker, I'd like to do...the deal that can't be made. And do it for humanity's sake." And yet, if Trump decided he would tell both sides that this is "the deal" on the table, could he pressure both Israelis and Palestinians to take it?  

 

There are those who believe that the notion that Trump will not impose a deal on Israel makes it more likely that Obama in his last couple months in office will make a move at the UN favourable to the Palestinians. As Herb Keinon has written on the Jerusalem Post, "Four options [that Obama could take] have been widely discussed: delivering a speech on the Mideast laying down how he sees the parameters of an eventual deal, or supporting one of three moves in the UN.  The three UN options include supporting either a new UN Security Council resolution laying new foundations for peacemaking to essentially replace Security Council Resolution 242; not vetoing another attempt by the Palestinians to get the Security Council to approve their admission into the UN as a state; or supporting  an anti-settlement resolution."

 

 

 

3.  Trump Has indicated He is in Favour of Israel continuing to build Settlements.

 

 

In an interview with the British Daily Mail on May 2016y, Trump said there should be no pause in settlement construction.

Asked if there should be a pause in settlement building, Trump was quoted answering as follows: “No, I don’t think it is, because I think Israel should have – they really have to keep going. They have to keep moving forward… I don’t think there should be a pause… Look: Missiles were launched into Israel...

 

Trumps stated position above is very different that Obama's position which pressured Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2009 to implement a freeze on  new construction for 10 months in an attempt to restart stalled peace talks with the Palestinians. PA President Mahmoud Abbas refused to negotiate until the very end of the freeze, which Netanyahu then refused to extend.

 

I think Trump is less likely to criticize Israel for building settlements, and this may mean it will be easier for Israel to build up the already  existing settlement blocs. I am not sure that it will mean the US will accept Israel building outside of the existing settlement blocs. [Update Nov 17: since writing this last statement, YNET has just published a piece in which  Minister Avigdor Lieberman says that Trump's team is asking Israel to only build within settlement blocs. http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4880028,00.html]

 

Finally, as Amos Harel has written in Ha'aretz, " Just as he [Trump] may be the first American president who...ignores construction in Jerusalem neighborhoods beyond the 1967 borders, Trump could easily make an abrupt about-turn based on internal political considerations or a sense of having sustained some personal insult."

4.  Trump and a green light s to enable Israel to annex large portion of the West Bank 

 

Naftali Bennett, Israel's education minister,  who champions Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) released a statement within hours of Mr Trump's victory declaring: "The era of a Palestinian state is over."

Some in the settler community suggest Trump may give the green light for Israel to annex large portions of the West Bank, but  I don't anticipate that Trump will go this far. If he won't move the Embassy to Jerusalem, he's not likely to give Israel the green light for annexation.  Bennett's statement is widely seen as an effort to pressure Netanyahu into adopting a more pro-settler position.

But, already it appears that in light of the Trump win, a Jerusalem City Hall official is going to approve 7000 housing units in Jerusalem over the Green Line that had been frozen due to fear of upsetting the Obama administration. 

http://www.timesofisrael.com/after-trump-win-officials-seek-jerusalem-building-spree/

 

 

6. Military Aid to Israel

 

In March 2016, Trump  raised eyebrows in Israel  when he said  Israel should pay for defense aid it receives from the US. But then The Dallas Morning News reported that Trump backtracked on the Israel statement during a tour of the building, saying of Israel, "They help us greatly."  Trump's initial statement opposing  foreign military aid  is one of the reasons why Netanyahu decided to sign in September a new $38 billion 10-year aid agreement under Obama, rather than waiting for the new administration.

 

On November 1 , David M. Friedman and Jason Greenblatt, the lawyers who head the Republican candidate’s Israel advisory committee, published a “joint statement” which said that Trump would  “give support [to Israel] greater than that provided” under the recently-signed 10-year Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. and Israel.http://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/217138/can-trumps-newly-released-statement-on-israel-woo-voters-in-must-win-swing-states

 

But remember that Trump himself has not said this.

 

7. Iran Deal-Could this be the End of the Deal?

 

Trump has said the flawed nuclear deal with Iran was a mistake ( which is in line with Netanyahu's views)  but Trump isn't seen to be likely to scrap the deal.

 

His advisor Freedman wrote in an email to the Forward:..l.  ...we [the U.S. ] have now released the funds to, and lifted the sanctions on, Iran, so the primary consequence of ‘ripping up the deal’ is to shorten even further the nuclear runway.” At the same time, Friedman didn’t rule out additional nuclear-related sanctions on Iran, even with the agreement still in place. “Assuming (a big assumption) that Iran is in compliance with the JCPOA and otherwise not threatening the US or its allies, we believe the Trump administration will use this period to engage with world leaders to re-introduce economic leverage on Iran and seek to eliminate the Iran nuclear program well in advance of the current 9-year runway.”

 

But, again, these are the words of Freedman, not of Trump, such that it's difficult to know. However as  Herb Keinon has noted, unlike Obama, Trump will not have any  " emotional investment" in the deal that could possibly blind him to Iranian violations.

 

Some have suggested that Trump will also pay more attention to Iran's ceasing support for Terrorist organizations like Hezbollah. 

 

Other experts are saying that the Iranian nuclear deal could collapse under Trump , in that a Trump administration "could take steps that would cause Iran to abandon its commitments"

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/iran-nuclear-deal-could-collapse-under-trump/2016/11/09/f2d2bd02-a68c-11e6-ba59-a7d93165c6d4_story.html

 

 As Mark Dubowitz, head of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies told the Washington Post,'I could see a Trump administration beginning to threaten the use of American power, and put the Iranians to a choice between severe sanctions and potential military action, or going back to renegotiate some key elements of the deal,” he said, citing sunset provisions that gradually begin to lift some limitations after seven to 15 years."

 

Amos Yadlin, a former chief of Israeli intelligence has written that 

It will also be important for Israel to try to reach an agreement whereby the United States would provide Israel with all the operational capabilities necessary to take action against Iran – in the even that all other alternatives for halting Iran’s progress toward completing its nuclear program have been exhausted"

 

 

8. Netanyahu's relationship with Trump

 

We might assume that it is likely that Netanyahu's relationship with Trump will be better than with Obama since it's hard to see how his relationship. Netanyahu's overall world view is more in line with Republicans than Democrats, and he will no doubt enjoy the opportunity to work with a Republican Congress and Senate.

 

“When I become President, the days of treating Israel like a second-class citizen will end on Day One,” Mr. Trump said. “I will meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu immediately..."

 

Trump has already invited Netanyahu to a meeting in the U.S. “at the first opportunity.”   But Aaron David Miller in the Wall Street Journal suggests that there will be tensions between the Netanyahu-Trump relationship:

 

" However the Trump-Netanyahu relationship begins, some issue–possibly settlements, or Mr. Netanyahu simply overplaying his hand on another matter–will lead to tensions. As close as the U.S. and Israel are, they are in different regions and driven by different motivations. These two leaders’ personalities suggest it’s only a matter of time before Mr. Trump and Mr. Netanyahu are annoying one another, or possibly worse."

 

Karl Vick writing in Time Magazine has suggested that  Netanyahu, who has called trump "a true friend of Israel"  is worried that Trump is a wild card. Vick wrote that Netanyahu "is so obviously keen to throw an arm around him [Trump] and have a quiet word—before someone else gets there first"http://time.com/4566802/president-donald-trump-israel-benjamin-netanyahu/

 

9. US Disengagement  from the Middle East Could Leave Russia with more power

 

If Trump is intent on being less involved in the Middle Eas, then Russia will have a greater role with more room to do what it wants, which will be against Israel's interests.

 

As  Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, a specialist on Middle East politics at Tel Aviv University's Dayan Center told the Jerusalem Post,"'If the US is not involved, the balance of power will be effected negatively. The strengthening of Russian influence and the efforts by Iran and Turkey to project power are not in Israel's interests. The US has a role to play in maintaining a balance of power in which Israel can thrive and survive. Without that balance it's a more dangerous region.''

http://www.jpost.com/Us-Election-Results/Analysis-Trump-election-will-take-Middle-East-from-bad-to-worse-472188

 

He also suggested that if  the Trump administration supports a more assertive right-wing Israeli posture regarding Jerusalem, the Temple Mount (al Haram al Sharif) and the West Bank , it could undermine the stability of the Jordanian monarchy. ''Public opinion in Jordan is very sensitive to what goes on here. That alone can threaten the monarchy and force the monarchy to line up behind public opinion.'

 

 
 

 

 
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.


Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.