If U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric is to be believed, his presidency will be bad news for immigrants, minorities, access to abortion and affordable health care, free trade and the environment.
But what will it mean for Israel?
I’m writing this only 48 hours after I woke up in the Upper Galilee to the horrifying news that Trump had defied all odds and all logic to win the election. So my predictions are based more on speculation than on hard evidence – especially since there may be only a handful of people in the world who know what the mercurial Trump really believes about any given issue.
But here goes.
The election of Trump – and the Republican control of both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate – could mean a shift away from U.S. policy of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It could mean scuttling or renegotiating the nuclear deal with Iran. It could be very good for Israel’s national security. And it could finally put real pressure on the Palestinian Authority (PA) to stop inciting terror and glorifying terrorists.
It could also, however, encourage and reward the Netanyahu government’s most hardline policies. While that will make many people here in Israel happy, it can only deepen the political and ideological rifts within Israeli society.
Trump’s apparent fascination with Russian President Vladimir Putin could mean more U.S. involvement in the greater Middle East, particularly in Syria and the battle with ISIS. What form that involvement takes remains a serious question mark.
Let’s start with the easy stuff. It’s a given that Trump will have a much closer relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu than did President Barack Obama, who never really “got” Israel or truly appreciated Israel’s security concerns.
There has been speculation that Obama would take some kind of action on the Middle East before he leaves office. This could mean laying down the parameters of an eventual Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, supporting a new UN Security Council resolution, not vetoing Palestinian attempts to be recognized by the UN as a state, or even supporting a UN anti-settlement resolution.
According to Herb Keinon of the Jerusalem Post, some observers think this is more likely to happen with Trump as Obama’s successor, even though it could tie the hands of the next administration and goes against Obama’s pledge for an orderly transition of power.
One of Trump’s top advisers on Israel, Jason Dov Greenblatt, told the Times of Israel that Trump will try to broker a solution to the conflict, but will not impose a deal.
Another Trump adviser, David Friedman, told the newspaper that Trump is not wedded to the idea of a two-state solution, and sees it as only one possible option.
Vice President-elect Mike Pence is an evangelical Christian with a strong record of supporting Israel. He said two weeks before the election that Jerusalem is the “eternal undivided capital of the Jewish people and the Jewish state.”
Although most of the focus since the election has been on Trump, the fact that the Republicans have a majority in both the U.S. House and Senate could be a huge benefit to Israel.
This could mean not only more pro-Israel legislation, but enforcement of current legislation, including clauses in the Foreign Operations Bill since 2005 that call for the U.S. to restrict funding to the PA if it supports terror and terrorists.
The Senate Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs approved a proposal in June to further amend the Foreign Operations Bill to reduce aid to the PA if it continues to pay salaries to terrorists and their families.
Obama has consistently used his power of veto to lift previous Congressional freezes on aid to the PA, at least partly from fear of destabilizing the Mahmoud Abbas regime.
Trump may have no such compunction. But, with even less foreign policy experience than Obama, he may yield to advisers and adopt a more restrained reaction, at least initially.
The future U.S. role in the broader Middle East is unclear. During his two terms, Obama intentionally adopted a much more hands-off policy in the region, leaving Russia to take a major role, especially in Syria. If indeed Trump cozies up to Putin, this may change.
The possibility that Trump’s presidency could be good for Israel should not offset the fact that the U.S. has elected the most seriously flawed, morally repugnant and least qualified candidate in modern history.
The world will be a scarier place with Trump as president.