Not many leaders around the world received the shocking news of Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election with jubilation. Netanyahu’s Israeli government was one of the rare exceptions. Does Netanyahu see something in this most flawed of future US president in living (and beyond) memory, the rest of us don’t see?
Most probably not; he must see leadership created in his own image. Trump brought to the election campaign much of the reckless methods that Netanyahu has used for more than two decades to win elections. Lies, deception, racism, promises that would never materialize and the appalling treatment of people working for them is just a short litany of the commonalities between these two elderly wealthy white men, who pretend to represent the deprived and disenfranchised in their societies and the future of their countries.
Both have a very negative view of the ‘other’ that leads them to believe that walls between people serve their countries’ security and wellbeing best, not exploring common interests through dialogue. Netanyahu’s 10 years of premiership, stretching over more than two decades, had the misfortune, from his perspective, of coinciding with Democratic presidents in the White House – first in the 1990s it was Bill Clinton and over the last seven years Barak Obama. Both saw him as an obstacle to peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
For the first time during his time in office, his counterpart in Washington is a Republican of sorts, but on this occasion of the very unpredictable and impulsive kind. Electing a president with negligible knowledge on foreign affairs and no understanding of the complexities of the Middle East might be seen as an advantage in Jerusalem.
True to form Trump changes his views on the Israeli-Palestinian issue from declaring his “neutrality”, to expressing his unwavering support for Israel. Needless to say, he was advised that being neutral toward Israel during elections in the United States is not an option for a candidate with a will to win.
Israeli decision makers favor the idea that the new occupant of Oval office prefers confrontation with Iran rather than continuing diplomatic engagement with troublesome, though mostly pragmatic, interlocutors in TehranYossi Mekelberg
An Israeli minister from Netanyahu’s inner political circles asserted that there is a considerable overlap between US president-elect Donald Trump and Israel on key issues of importance that was lacking with President Barack Obama. Another declared that this was the time to bury the notion of a Palestinian state.
Two major sources of disagreement between the Netanyahu government and the Obama administration were the expansion of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and the Iranian nuclear deal. For the settlement movement in the occupied West Bank and their supporters, President Obama was an enemy who put pressure on Israel not to expand the settlements further, especially around Jerusalem.
It was convincingly argued that Netanyahu might not have enjoyed the American pressure, however, used it effectively to counter balance the relentless pressure from the settlement movement for unrestrained building in the settlements.
Peace and settlement
If Trump’s close advisor Jason Greenblatt suggestion is correct that the newly elected president believes that settlement activity should not be condemned and that it is not an obstacle to peace, no surprise then that the Right in Israel celebrates his election. Even the little that Obama managed in limiting settlements’ construction will now become redundant.
Moreover, according to Greenblatt, Trump is wholly subscribed to the Israeli narrative that the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 and the removal of the Jewish settlements brought Hamas to power instead of advancing the cause of peace. This oversmiplistic view of the conflict is most probably going to be the prevailing one in the new Trump administration.
Consequently, one wonders what can stop or at least restrain Israel from entrenching its occupation of Palestinian land. Releasing the brakes on the number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank in conjunction with fulfilling the election promise of the highly symbolic move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, surely will be the last nail in the already scant possibility of a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, based on a two state solution, brokered by the United States.
Trump’s election campaign was void of substance and replete with load of waffle. He called the nuclear deal with Iran a “disaster” and “the worst deal ever negotiated.” He gave no reasoning for these claims, though if you are Donald Trump you do not need to provide any logical explanation.
This was music to Netanyahu’s ears who was leading a campaign against the agreement with Iran. The President-elect announced that he wants to renegotiate the terms of the agreement, a move that can only harm an agreement, which despite its imperfections seems to be adhered to by all sides. He might also find the US isolated from the other members of the P5+1 that were instrumental in reaching a deal which is not flawless, but so far serves its purpose rather well.
It would also make a mockery of signing agreements with one US administration, knowing that the next one is going to challenge it or even just reject it. Israeli decision makers favor the idea that the new occupant of the Oval office prefers confrontation with Iran rather than continuing complex diplomatic engagement with troublesome, though mostly pragmatic, interlocutors in Tehran.
The Israeli government may rejoice over the election of Donald Trump and wave a goodbye of relief in the New Year to eight years of Obama’s presidency, but they do so for all the wrong reasons. Trump, who specialized in making gains out of bankruptcies, will very quickly discover that in international affairs when your foreign policy is bankrupt, there might not be a second chance.
US policy in the Middle East in general and more particularly toward the peace process already lacks credibility. If Trump follows his irresponsible promises on the election trail, US foreign policy will face complete bankruptcy, and those in Israel who welcome a Trump presidency with great enthusiasm will find that there are no advantages when your closest of allies goes into political insolvency.
Yossi Mekelberg is an Associate Fellow at the Middle East and North Africa Program at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, where he is involved with projects and advisory work on conflict resolution, including Track II negotiations. He is also the Director of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program at Regent’s University in London, where he has taught since 1996. Previously, he was teaching at King’s College London and Tel Aviv University. Mekelberg’s fields of interest are international relations theory, international politics of the Middle East, human rights, and international relations and revolutions. He is a member of the London Committee of Human Rights Watch, serving on the Advocacy and Outreach committee. Mekelberg is a regular contributor to the international media on a wide range of international issues and you can find him on Twitter @YMekelberg.