Thursday, November 10, 2016

 Vic Rosenthal's Weekly Column


It’s Wednesday morning, and the American presidential election has just been decided. Honestly, I didn’t expect this result. I didn’t underestimate Trump’s appeal, but I failed to realize just how much the voters disliked Clinton. Of course working-class people overwhelmingly chose Trump, but I think many others – Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans – who would have voted for Hillary couldn’t stomach the tawdry revelations of influence-peddling by the Clintons. “If it’s between a shithead and a Secretary of State who sold out her country, I’ll take the shithead,” said a friend.

So much for my very unprofessional analysis – the professionals will be dissecting this election into the future, as they did with the Brexit vote, and Menachem Begin’s 1977 upset victory in Israel (not to compare Trump with Begin)! 

This election will be of great importance to Americans in countless ways. But what does it mean for Israel?

The only real answer is “who knows?” Trump is not famous for consistency, and he will be learning the rules and the players as he goes. But a position paper on US-Israel relations released last week by his “Israel Advisory Committee” was remarkably positive. Among other things, it makes clear that Trump would not support any efforts to impose a solution on Israel and the Palestinians via the UN; it calls for “defensible borders” and rejects pressuring Israel to “withdraw to borders that make attacks and conflict more likely;” and it states that

The U.S. will recognize Jerusalem as the eternal and indivisible capital of the Jewish state and Mr. Trump’s Administration will move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

Yes, they all say that. But maybe he is the first to mean it. The document is not signed by Trump and it isn’t clear if its authors will have positions in his administration. But it is certain that his intentions will be tested quickly.

One litmus test will be whether he will stand up against the State Department’s irrational and anti-Jewish position that no part of Jerusalem belongs to Israel, move the embassy, and issue an order that State shall recognize (at the very least) western Jerusalem as an integral part of Israel. If the embassy move does not begin within the first 100 days of his administration, it will signal that we should not expect much from Trump on other matters.

Now would be the time to take this step, when the conservative Sunni Arab states are minimally hostile to Israel and when plentiful oil has made their economic influence in the US ebb. Trump would be missing an opportunity to improve relations with Israel and congressional conservatives if he does not take advantage of this.

Regarding Iran, the document calls for the US to “counteract Iran’s ongoing violations” of the nuclear deal with new sanctions, but does not – as Trump has said he would – repudiate it. The Obama Administration appeases Iran time after time because the unsigned ‘deal’ is its baby, and would be embarrassed if the Iranians publically denounced it. But it isn’t part of Trump’s legacy. He owes the Iranian regime nothing.

The Obama Administration, since its inception, has fed friendly media with suggestions that Israel and in particular the Netanyahu government, is responsible for the continuation of the conflict with the Palestinians. It adopted the phony “pro-Israel” J Street organization as a favored voice among Jewish organizations, inviting it to the White House while spurning groups like the Zionist Organization of America. If the document is even partially representative of Trump’s thinking, the anti-Israel psychological warfare campaign will lose its impetus. Had Clinton been elected, it is unlikely that any of the above would have changed.

Either Barack Obama personally hates Bibi Netanyahu, or he found it useful to pretend antipathy in order to achieve his goals. Either way, his disrespect and even contempt for Israel’s Prime Minister – which he expressed on numerous occasions – damaged relations between our nations and reflected badly on the American presidency itself. Trump has no reason to behave this way.

Americans concerned about the lack of recognition of the jihad, both military and psychological-political, being waged against the West and its values by radical Islam have been boiled like the proverbial frog in the pot for eight years. Regardless of his precise positions on the relationship between America and the Islamic world, Trump’s rejection of political correctness and limitations on speech will be a breath of fresh air for discourse about the Middle East. After two terms of Obama-speak, one has to look forward to Trump’s more direct language. 

It is generally thought that Barack Obama will take some kind of action in the lame duck period which begins today to bring about an Israeli withdrawal from the territories and the establishment of a Palestinian state. Trump’s victory doesn’t make this impossible, but it may be that Obama will be less likely to do something that clearly goes against the spirit of the wishes of the American people. Trump may be able to embarrass him by publicly asking him to refrain. If Obama does go ahead, it will be proof positive of his bias and hostility – just like another former president, Jimmy Carter.

As with any president – in fact, even more so because of his relative inexperience and (one must admit) ignorance of foreign affairs, a great deal will depend on Trump’s choice of confidants and advisors. And I expect that he will become more serious and careful as the mantle of responsibility settles on his shoulders.

This election campaign was viciously fought, certainly more so than any other in my lifetime. I don’t recall an election in which candidates were accused of murder and rape! Trump’s success as President or lack thereof will be felt throughout the world, and especially here in Israel. And that will depend on both sides understanding that the campaign is over, and that from here on it’s necessary and appropriate for them to work together for everyone’s good. Trump made a good start in his victory speech. Now it’s up to his opponents.




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