Israeli Fears of Trump’s Changes of Mind

Since taking office as President of the United States, President Donald Trump has firmly adopted the hard-line views, positions and decisions of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  He poured his free gifts on the Zionist state  such as moving the US embassy to occupied Jerusalem, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, withdrawing from the nuclear agreement with Iran and many others, including ‘sanctions’ imposed on the Palestinian side. Still, in politics, things usually change. The US administration is said to be frustrated with Israel and that Trump may have decided to abandon Netanyahu, the longest-serving leader in Israel who is under heavy pressure due to corruption issues despite strong indications that he will not surrender voluntarily. While Netanyahu is trying to evade these issues in one way or another, the internal and external circle of rebellion against him is expanding.

According to Israeli officials speaking to Yediot Ahronot newspaper: “Washington is frustrated and disappointed by the Israeli policy and the political crisis that prevented the launch of the political part of the ‘deal of the century’, putting it on hold for months.” The paper concluded: “Trump is looking beyond Netanyahu and what the future Israeli government might mean for his hopes of disclosing an Arab-Israeli peace plan this year.” Dan Shapiro, the former US ambassador to Israel, commented: “Trump smells Netanyahu’s weakness and wants to distance himself from him. Trump wants little to do with the loser Netanyahu.”

 The first step away from Netanyahu was not to help him in the second round of the Knesset (Israeli parliament) elections last September, as he did in the first round after the April elections when he invited him to the White House, announcing “The annexation of the Golan Heights to Israel.” Trump openly declared that after the second Knesset elections, he had no contact with Netanyahu and played down the latter’s importance to the Washington-Tel Aviv alliance. More recently, Trump has refused public support for Netanyahu’s pledge to annex parts of the West Bank if he is re-elected. This was not the case after the April elections when Trump announced the new US political stance on the Golan Heights. He sounded happy at the time to show their close relationship.

 The second step was due to the pressures of the upcoming US presidential elections. According to Aaron David Miller, a former US adviser on Palestinian and Israeli issues: “For Trump, maintaining his pro-Israel credentials and satisfying conservative Jewish and evangelical voters is more important than the bond he has established with Netanyahu. Trump is interested in only one election, the US election.”  Even Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement that the United States will not consider Jewish colonies ‘settlements’ contrary to international law was not made this time as usual for Netanyahu’s sake but for Trump’s own good. The Washington Post explained that “Trump’s calculations – where he said that American Jewish voters who vote for the Democrats are disloyal to Israel – are centred on domestic politics before the 2020 elections as much as on foreign policy. The president’s hard-line approach was not only an attempt to win some Jewish voters who had supported the Democrats before, but also to evangelicals who are among his strongest supporters and revered Israel for its role in Bible stories.”

The third step away was related to Iran. In recent months, Trump has been troubled by Netanyahu’s staunch opposition to some possible US diplomatic moves with Iran to conclude a deal that shows Trump as a peacemaker. Both of them were unanimous before on curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions in hardline ways, by the imposition of sanctions, perhaps even, as Netanyahu has demanded many times, to start the war. For his part, the US president objected to the “nuclear Iran” believing that a better deal can be obtained, while Netanyahu rejected any concession to Iran, which he considers the first enemy to Israel. As Amos Harel, a military commentator for the Haaretz daily says: “The prevailing estimates in Tel Aviv suggest that Trump’s desire for political foreign policy achievements before next year’s elections makes him less responsive to Netanyahu’s pressure to prevent him from trying to reach out to Iran”.

A fourth indication of a step away appears in President Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from Syria without informing Israel in advance, as well as his position on the military operation in north eastern Syria.  Netanyahu considered such moves not only a threat to the security of Israel, but “changes in US strategy in Middle East region, and a US backing off from dealing with the problem of Iranian military concentration in Syria.” Israeli writer Uri Misgav wrote: “Trump is a bankrupt sequential expressing bankruptcy: the global democratic way of building the American system and that of Israel’s Bibi (Netanyahu). This is overwhelming and utter failure for Netanyahu, who put his bet on this failed horse, perhaps upon the order of their common master, a gambling man, Sheldon Adelson.” He went on to say: “In his rush to Trump’s arms, in addition to yielding  to Vladimir Putin, Netanyahu led Israel into a broken basin in front of the Iran-Russia axis in the Middle East, and in turn led to an unprecedented rift with the liberal-democratic camp in America and most Jews in the United states.”