The Obama administration is gone. Donald Trump is U.S. president. And now we get to see what this changing of the guard will mean for Israel.
I’m writing this column just 72 hours after Trump was sworn in. When he finally tired of – or was dissuaded from – tweeting and ranting about the media coverage of the inauguration, he managed a 30-minute conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Trump described the conversation as “very nice,” and Netanyahu’s office described it as “very warm.” Trump invited the Israeli prime minister to Washington this month.
According to the Jerusalem Post, the topics they discussed included the Iran nuclear agreement and the Palestinian situation. The two leaders may also have discussed the potential move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, although at time of writing Trump had gone silent on what was a major issue in his campaign.
It appears that Trump intends to blow up as much of former president Barack Obama’s legacy as possible, including the ways he dealt with Israel and the Palestinians.
And, like so many U.S. presidents before him, he has vowed to bring about a peace deal during his presidency. Like them, he may find it easier to proclaim than to accomplish.
The only refreshing thing about his “America-first” inaugural address was his refusal to use euphemisms when he talked about terror.
“We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones, and unite the world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate from the face of the earth,” he said.
Let me be clear. Most Muslims are not terrorists, and Trump’s rants about banning Muslim immigration to the U.S. are racist, offensive and ignorant.
But most terror in Israel and the rest of the world is carried out in the name of violent and regressive interpretations of Islam.
Calling any terrorists “insurgents” and “radicals” – favourite labels of most Western politicians and media – legitimizes their actions by implying that they are fighting for a true cause. In the case of Islamist terrorists, conquering the world as we know it and replacing it with a barbaric form of Islam from the Dark Ages is not a cause – it is destruction and genocide.
Calling something by its real name is always a good start. But the real test will be whether the Trump administration – especially his son-in-law and key adviser Jared Kushner and new ambassador to Israel David Friedman – can go a step further.
It’s easy to label Hamas, Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda and ISIS as terrorist organizations and declare them enemies. And it’s just as simple to see Hamas as the bad guy and the Palestinian Authority (PA) as a potential ally when discussing the peace process.
But no U.S. administration has been able or willing to acknowledge that, despite its self-styled moderate secularism, the PA’s Fatah leadership uses the tools and techniques of radical Islam to deny Israel’s right to exist and incite its citizens to violence against Israel.
Yes, I’m a broken record on this subject. But the distinction between Hamas and Fatah is getting even more dangerously blurred.
In January, senior PA leaders participated in a “Palestinian Martyrs’ Day” in Gaza. The event, under the auspices of PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, was attended by the PA minister of labour and a representative of PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
It was designed to “end the rift” between Fatah and Hamas. The honoured martyrs included terrorists from Fatah, Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. http://tinyurl.com/jbwn6fd
I have little respect for Trump or his abilities. But, if Kushner is as smart as he’s reputed to be, maybe he can avoid the traps of sugar-coating Fatah, trusting Abbas and seeing the conflict with Israel only in territorial terms.
He can take advantage of a Republican-controlled Senate and House of Representatives to encourage the Trump administration to make aid to the Palestinian Authority conditional on its abandoning policies of hate education, glorifying terrorism and paying salaries to terrorists and their families.
Because of presidential vetoes, these aid freezes have never been given a chance to work in the past. I’d love to see the Trump regime impose these freezes and give them time to take effect, no matter how unpopular this would be.
This would motivate the Palestinians to return to negotiations. More important, if coupled with U.S. demands for the PA to replace hate incitement with peace education, the Trump administration would be addressing the real obstacles to peace.
Trump might just be the only president crazy enough to try it.