November 19, 2018

Trump’s inauguration and Israel: Getting ready for ‘the last twitches of yesterday’s world’

Here are a few things that Israelis and their US supporters should remember as President elect Donald Trump becomes President Donald Trump:

– Even if Donald Trump will be a true friend of Israel’s, even if the US embassy will move to Jerusalem on his first day in office, even if Trump will demand more from the Iranians in his second day in office, even if he will notify the UN that America will no longer deal with the organization until it ceases to be obsessed with Israel and until it revokes the mean Security Council resolution against the settlements – he could still be a problematic President for America, and hence for Israel. The Israeli interest concerning America is much broader than the narrow scope of specific Israel-related issues. Israel has an interest that America will be strong, thriving, just, involved in world affairs, a leader, a force of good. An American president that is good for Israel and bad for America is a bad president for Israel.

– The US is a strong and important country, but it is not the only country in the world. America’s friendship is an important friendship – by far the most important one for Israel – but it is not good for Israel for it to be its only friendship. And it is true: The Paris peace convention was pathetic. And it is true: some of the old clichés concerning the Middle East in general and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular should find their way to the trash can. Still, an Israeli decision to rely on Trump, only on Trump, and without a shred of consideration or interest in what other leaders or other countries think would be dangerous. Trump was elected for one term. In four years, an Obama-like president might be in the White House again. Israel ought to be ready for such a scenario. 

– Generally speaking, the hasty talk about a “new era” in which Israel is going to enjoy more leeway and more understanding for its policies from now on is premature and overstated. Trump was elected due to a special combination of circumstances. He was elected by a minority. In other words: Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu might have been right when he defined the Paris conference “the last twitches of yesterday's world.” But on the same token, it is also possible that Trump himself is “the last twitches of yesterday’s world” (as President Obama surely believes). It is possible that following Trump another Obama will rise, and then another one, and another one.

– Half of America is celebrating the contrarian victory of Trump (it’s actually less than half, according to recent polls, unless you are one of those believing all polls are “rigged”). Half of America is still mourning. When Israel celebrates cockily, demonstrably, with the Trump camp – it is eroding its standings with the grieving camp. That is, with the majority of Americans who lost in this election.

– Trump has already proved that he is a leader, but he seems like an aggressive leader. Those who stand in his way rarely get many moments of grace. Those attempting to disrupt him rarely get any sympathy or the benefit of understanding. All this is great when Trump is supportive and has a policy that helps Israel. All this could seem much more problematic if and when Trump will reach an understanding with Vladimir Putin concerning regional arrangements that Israel will not accept. All of this will change if Trump decides one day that he too wants a shot at a Noble Peace Prize, and believes that forcing Israel’s hand will get him the prize. All of this will change if public opinion in America turns against Israel and Trump feels the need to accommodate this shift. Will such a day arrive? Hopefully not – but one can never be certain about such things. Be sure of this, though: if the day of US-Israel clashing arrives, Israel is going to miss the most unlikely man: Barack Obama. He is a much less intimidating person to resist.

– It is possible that the election of Trump and his Presidency open new political options for Israel. It is possible that now Israel can expand settlements without interruption. It is possible that now Israel can annex this or that area. It is possible that Israel will no longer be under the obligation to use the “two state” language. And yet, the question remains: not the question of whether President Trump is going to let Israel do all of these things – but rather whether it is in Israel’s interest to do all of these things. In other words: if you are given a very large chunk of delicious chocolate, it does not mean that eating all of it is good for your health. Trump might let Israel expand distant settlements – but he isn’t going to demand such action. So Israel will still have to decide what to do with the leverage that comes with a less restrictive administration.

– Lastly: The easy and spreading comparison of Israeli leaders to Donald Trump is unfounded. True, there are bombastic Israeli Knesset Members (such as Erel Margalit) who might dream to be an Israeli Trump. The result is quite pathetic. True, Netanyahu’s opponents seem to want to portray the PM as the Israeli equivalent of Trump – assuming such an image is going to hurt him. But their assumption is wrong (it will not hurt him) – and the resemblance weak. There is no Israeli Trump, and hopefully there is not going to be one. Israel ought to be generous and let America be unique in that respect.

A version of this article was published this morning in Israel’s Maariv Daily.