Anti-Trump sentiment may turn against Israel, Ya’alon warns
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'Israel is identified nowadays more with the Republicans... We are paying the price today for taking sides'

Anti-Trump sentiment may turn against Israel, Ya’alon warns

Days after announcing intention to run for PM, ex-defense minister says he fears Israel becoming a GOP issue in Trump age

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

Former defense minister Moshe Ya'alon speaks at Hebrew University, on January 18, 2017 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Former defense minister Moshe Ya'alon speaks at Hebrew University, on January 18, 2017 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

WASHINGTON — Days after Moshe Ya’alon announced his intention to form a new political party and run for prime minister in the next national elections, he warned against Israel becoming increasingly perceived as a partisan issue, namely a Republican cause, in the age of US President Donald Trump.

“I’m afraid of the fact that Israel is identified nowadays more with the Republicans,” he said Monday during a lecture at American University’s Center for Israel Studies. “Anti-Trump sentiments are becoming anti-Israel sentiments. This is my fear.”

“I’m afraid that we are paying the price today for taking sides,” he added, presumably alluding to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s openly favoring then Republican candidate Mitt Romney when Barack Obama was seeking reelection in 2012, Netanyahu’s highly controversial address to Congress in 2015, amid strong opposition from Democrats, in an effort to thwart Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, and the Israeli leader’s generally adversarial relationship with the ex-president.

Since Trump assumed office in January, Netanyahu has signaled an intent to forge a closeness with the new American leader. He travelled to Washington last month to meet with him at the White House, where they both castigated Obama’s nuclear accord and vowed to thwart Iran from developing a nuclear arsenal.

Netanyahu also absolved the president from charges of anti-Semitism, saying there is no “greater supporter of the Jewish people and the Jewish state than Donald Trump.”

On Saturday, Ya’alon said he would run to replace Netanyahu, less than a year after he was forced to resign as defense minister amid the PM’s efforts to expand and strengthen his coalition by bringing in Avigdor Liberman’s hardline right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party and handing him the defense portfolio.

Ya’alon had lashed out at the move, warning that “extremist and dangerous forces have taken over Israel and the Likud movement and are destabilizing our home and threatening to harm its inhabitants.”

On Monday, Ya’alon spoke of the Iranian nuclear threat, growing instability in the Middle East and the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Iran, he said, was currently “taking advantage of a deal we considered a historic mistake,” and the region was suffering from the “collapse of the artificial nation-state system.”

Former interior minister Gideon Saar (L), former defense minister Moshe Ya'alon (2L), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2R) and former energy minister Silvan Shalom in the Knesset on May 1, 2013. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Former interior minister Gideon Saar (L), former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon (2L), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2R) and former energy minister Silvan Shalom in the Knesset on May 1, 2013. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

While Ya’alon painted a grim picture for the prospects of Israel reaching a “final settlement” with the Palestinians, he did advocate the need for the two parties to disentangle themselves from each other.

“We and the Palestinians are like Siamese twins,” he said, adding that it was difficult to “separate.”

Ya’alon told attendees at the DC university’s annual Amos Perlmutter Memorial Lecture that he supported the Oslo Peace Accords in the 1990s because “sanctifying human life is more important than sanctifying land.”

But the Second Intifada, three wars in Gaza and continued Palestinian incitement, he indicated, have left him more skeptical of Israel’s capacity to fully reconciling with the Palestinians, whom he does not believe are prepared to reach an agreement. “I don’t see any chance for a final settlement,” he said.

Ya’alon argued in favor of having “two separate political entities” between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, and said the Palestinians needed to ultimately be granted “autonomy” and self-rule — a move he said was in Israel’s best long-term interests.

When asked what advice he would give to Trump, who has said he seeks to broker “the ultimate deal” of Israeli-Palestinian peace, Ya’alon encouraged him to internalize that he will not solve the conflict and to focus more on Iran’s nuclear ambitions and nefarious activities in the region.

“I would tell him there’s no clear solution, you are not going to solve the problem in your term, even if you’re going to be the president for eight years,” he said. “The first challenge is Iran. The second challenge is Iran. And the third challenge is Iran. Then it’s dealing with ISIS.”

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