Experts on US-Israel ties cautious on Trump’s future impact on the region
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Experts on US-Israel ties cautious on Trump’s future impact on the region

At Tel Aviv panel, former US envoy to Israel says embassy might actually be moved to Jerusalem; others don’t expect dramatic changes

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Traditional Russian wooden nesting dolls, Matryoshka dolls, depicting Russia's President Vladimir Putin, US Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and US Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump are seen on sale at a gift shop in central Moscow on November 8, 2016 (AFP PHOTO / Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV)
Traditional Russian wooden nesting dolls, Matryoshka dolls, depicting Russia's President Vladimir Putin, US Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and US Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump are seen on sale at a gift shop in central Moscow on November 8, 2016 (AFP PHOTO / Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV)

Experts on US-Israel relations on Wednesday morning argued as to whether president-elect Donald Trump will in fact implement the unorthodox policies he promoted during the election campaign.

“Clearly, it is impossible for the United States and the international system, for the pure set of ideas articulated by Trump through the election campaign to be implemented into policy,” former Israeli ambassador to the US Itamar Rabinovich said at a panel discussion in Tel Aviv. “This would create a degree of international turmoil the world and the US will not be able to live with.”

The difference between Trump’s proposed policies and those he will try to implement might be subtle, he said, but his cabinet and advisers will undoubtedly prevent him from making drastic and irresponsible decisions.

“It takes one set of ideas and one set of statements to get elected, and a different set of ideas to govern and to make policy,” Rabinovich said. “My sense is that there will be a serious moderation of some of the policies. I don’t think a wall will be erected on the Mexican border. Muslims will not be denied access to the United States, and so on and so forth. At the same time, there will be changes.”

Former diplomat and Tel Aviv University leader Itamar Rabinovich serves as president of the new Israel Institute. (Courtesy of Puder PR)
Former diplomat Itamar Rabinovich (Courtesy of Puder PR)

Israel will most likely be unaffected by the change in the White House, predicted Rabinovich, who served as Israel’s envoy to Washington between 1993 and 1996 and after that taught Middle Eastern history at Tel Aviv University. “I don’t expect great dramas with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. I wouldn’t have expected them under Hillary Clinton.”

Daniel Kurtzer, a former American ambassador to Israel and Egypt, on the other hand, said that Trump’s foreign policy goals remain a mystery and could dramatically change the dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“No one quite knows what our policies might be, including a president Trump,” he said. “I don’t think Donald Trump has given any thought whatsoever to substantive policy.”

Judging from comments his advisers on Israel have made during the campaign, the world should brace for drastic changes in America’s approach to the Middle East, he continued.

“A serious possibility is now that Mr. Trump would move the American embassy to Jerusalem, would change American opposition to settlements, would support those within Israel who would be seeking to annex parts of the West Bank — in other words, to align American policy much more closely to what I guess is called the right wing of Israeli policy,” Kurtzer said.

Former US ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer at Princeton University, February 1, 2011 (AP/Mel Evans)
Former US ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer (AP/Mel Evans)

“And that not only has implications for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but it will also send a message to other countries in the region that have looked traditionally to the US to take a lead in advancing the peace process.”

Addressing an election-themed conference at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, Kurtzer, who has served under Democratic and Republican presidents, slammed the president-elect for his combative election campaign.

“The Trump campaign has unleashed some currents of behavior that will be hard to put back in the box: anti-Semitism, prejudice against people of color, against Latinos, against women, against immigrants. All of them not only have domestic implications but implications for how we deal with the rest of the world.”

The idea of the United States being a beacon of democracy, championed by former president George W. Bush, “will now be seen globally as pretty much a joke,” Kurtzer said.

Another former Israeli ambassador to the US, Sallai Meridor, struck a more optimistic tone, pointing out that Jerusalem and Washington will continue to share many strategic interests, which will guarantee a strong bilateral relations.

Former ambassador to the US and current International Chairman of the Jerusalem Foundation Sallai Meridor. (Courtesy Jerusalem Foundation)
Sallai Meridor. (Jerusalem Foundation)

However, “sharing observation of symptoms and sharing desires for an outcome is not sufficient for a shared policy,” he warned.

“The fact that we share interests doesn’t necessarily mean we share the same strategy and policies,” he said, pointing to the acrimonious dispute over the Iran deal.

“There is a lot of work to do between the Israeli government and the new American administration in terms of translating those very shared same interests and closeness of relations — both emotional and strategic — into shared policies.”

Given that Trump’s true foreign policy goals are somewhat unknown, it is crucial Israelis pay close attention to what he and his advisers are going to be saying in the next weeks and months.

“We, in Israel, need to listen,” said Meridor, who served as ambassador between 2006 and 2009. Israeli leaders visiting the Oval Office usually came prepared with a long list of items they like to discuss, and the American hosts politely listen and take notes, he said. “In this period, at the beginning, we need to be really good listeners, to see what the next president wants to achieve for America and be willing to see in which way Israel can be helpful,” Meridor said.

In its first interactions with the Trump administration, Israel should not pursue “short-term gains” and rushed decisions, he continued, referring to a possible demand to cancel the Iran nuclear agreement or quickly move the embassy to Jerusalem.

“We need to look long-term, see the implications of every move,” he said, “and not be hasty or encourage hasty moves that were not well thought through before.”

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