By Larry Gordon
At this stage of the campaign for the presidency, supporters of both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton believe that regardless of who the victor in November is, Israel will have a fairly good friend or a very good friend in the White House.
It seems rather clear that on this count, Israel would prefer Mr. Trump over Mrs. Clinton, primarily because Trump would signal a break with the failed and unthinking two-state-solution ways of the U.S. Department of State. On the Clinton side of the equation, it seems that she might have the foreign-policy version of a double albatross hanging around her neck. That is, her association with Barack Obama on one side and senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren on the other side—though the otherwise liberal Warren has quite a pro-Israel voting record.
Going forward, it looks like Israel will, if nothing else, be in less-frightening hands than they have been in over the last eight years of the Obama presidency. As both major parties head into their nominating conventions, Israeli leadership is uncertain about what last-minute surprises Mr. Obama has up his sleeve, to leave Israel with a parting condescending shot as he exits office with a string of questionable policies and multiple foreign-policy failures.
It has almost been a tradition of some presidents to focus their attention on little Israel as they head into the sunset as a way of attempting to score a victory while using the contradictory slogans that include the words Israel, Arabs, and peace.
President Obama might use the Security Council at the U.N. as a way of further isolating Israel in the international community, and it will be a challenge for Israel over the next few months to deflect and proverbially kick the can down the road to get past this policy mostly shrouded in hostility.
But regardless of what happens, there is the future—as is usual—for Israel to look forward to. And the future of the usually good and robust U.S.–Israel relationship will be reflective of the attitudes and disposition of one of these two—Hillary and Donald. As of now, most of the polls are showing Mrs. Clinton with a fairly good lead over Mr. Trump. These polls, however, are media-hyped inventions that are there to serve the voracious appetite of the news cycles more than anything else.
A lot of people like Donald Trump because of his departure from the usual talking-head, talking-point presentation. Trump is an off-the-cuff guy who says whatever is in his heart or on his mind regardless of the consequences. Interestingly, he has been trying to tone down this aspect of his act and who he is. Since making that effort, he has been slipping in the polls—so that’s quite a dilemma.
Frankly, at this point it only makes sense that Hillary Clinton will be the next president. The country needs the shock and awe of a Trump presidency, but in all likelihood the majority of voters will exercise the tendency to go with what they know instead of an unpredictable 70-year-old novice.
Whether Trump or Clinton is elected in November, the theme and motivation of their service at this stage of their lives and careers will be mostly about how they will be ultimately viewed by history. Had the candidate been Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio—both in their mid-forties—the consideration and the catalyst of their decision-making process is conceivably and dramatically different than in the current circumstance.
Can the tired old policy of the U.S. on peace in Israel and the surrounding areas ever be shifted in any significant way? Or, if he is elected, will Donald Trump have the fortitude to push back against the long-held establishment position and errant formulation that the only way out of the Middle East quagmire is the withdrawal of Israel from Judea and Samaria and parts of Jerusalem?
For her part, Mrs. Clinton will in all likelihood support the now meaningless utterance of the need for “two states for two people.” While this decades-old formula is no longer practical or workable, it has a comfortable ring to it and seems like a satisfactory goal for all the parties involved in the process to hang their hats on. That it is not doable has, oddly, almost nothing to do with the ongoing process—or lack of such a process.
Will Mr. Trump be able to clearly say that it is his personal foreign-policy position as president that Israel hold on to Judea and Samaria as it exists today and that Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital city of the Jewish state? Certainly, expressing these ideas will cause some upheaval—more in Europe and less in the Middle East, where major players like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Egypt understand that a strong Jewish state protects them as much as it does Israel.
As we have reported in the past few weeks, the Trump advisers on Israel—Jason Greenblatt and David Friedman—are staunch supporters of peace with a greater Israel remaining intact. Our new age and different circumstances that have evolved on the ground these last ten years dictate that there be a new thinking applied to maintaining calm in the Middle East, especially in Israel.
On the other side, the Clinton camp still at least outwardly holds on to the old way of thinking that, even under the most desirable circumstances, leads to stalemate and inaction. Hillary’s most influential adviser on Israel, Sidney Blumenthal, is well known for seeking to undermine the policies of the Netanyahu government. His son, Max Blumenthal, is well known in Israeli circles for actively working to dislodge the Likud government while seeking to restore leftists that will make serious territorial concessions to the Palestinians. That is, concessions that no longer make any strategic sense and could significantly jeopardize Israel’s security.
For their part this week, the International Quartet has issued a report on Israel–Palestinian peace that, in an interesting and important shift in language, refers to Israel’s settlement enterprise as “illegitimate,” rather than “illegal.” Over the next few days, the report will be discussed at a formal U.N. Security Council session. Not referring to settlements as illegal might seem insignificant, but it is a major concession by the Quartet composed of the U.S., the European Union, Russia, and the U.N. If something is illegitimate rather than illegal, it might not be considered a nice thing, but the reality is that it is still yours and belongs to you. And that is what the Quartet is saying beneath the surface here. They are saying that the reality has changed. There are over 500,000 people living in these so-called disputed territories. It is no longer valid to refer to them as illegal—the next phase of the debate is whether they are legitimate or not.
As we get closer to the major-party political conventions, will the candidates have the courage to revise their thinking? Will the international community change course as well? Things seem to be moving ever so slowly in that direction.
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