Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

A diplomatic opportunity?

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Zalman Shoval

 

President-elect Donald Trump told the Wall Street Journal in an interview that his desire is to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians, to bring an end to "the war that never ends."

"As a deal maker, I'd like to do ... the deal that can't be made. And do it for humanity's sake," he said.

This short statement was delivered as if unplanned, off the cuff, but as we can glean from Trump's campaign speeches over the past year, even comments that appear to be shots from the hip are essentially thought out well in advance. We can interpret his statement in a variety of ways; however, it is clearly reflective of his intention to play an active role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What this intention actually portends, only time will tell.

Myriad issues may arise in the coming weeks, and Trump's win does not mean the automatic implementation of every decision he makes - as some here among us are hoping for the erasure of the two-state solution or a "green light" for massive construction in Judea and Samaria. Incidentally, the first president who called for the establishment of a Palestinian state was none other than George W. Bush, a Republican.

Moreover, the results of these elections do not necessarily indicate a complete overhaul of basic American policies on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Trump will perhaps declare his recognition of Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel, something his predecessors should have done a long time ago. As for the promise to transfer the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem - we must wait for him to enter the White House.

In the future, we will certainly hear less about the settlements being an "obstacle to peace," but for anyone who has forgotten, this view was adopted by President George Bush Sr., who did not subscribe to the view that the settlements are, as they are alleged, illegal. And although Washington during the George W. Bush Administration was willing to turn a blind eye to construction in Jerusalem and its environs and in the large settlement blocs, it is precisely for this reason that it was particularly tough in its criticism of creating new settlements or failing to evacuate illegal outposts. Passing the "outpost regulation bill" [a controversial proposed bill being pushed by some right-wing members of Israel's governing coalition that would allow the government to retroactively legalise illegally constructed West Bank outposts - Ed.] could harm future relations with the US (not to mention the fact that until Jan. 20, Barack Obama is still the President, which is plenty of time to establish negative facts on the ground from Israel's perspective).

On another matter, Trump's approach toward protecting America's borders is compatible with Israel's fundamental demand to maintain defensible borders. Based on his past comments, we can guess that Trump, like Obama, will lean toward a doctrine of avoiding American over-involvement abroad. In this context, we might ask ourselves whether a president who waved the banner of "making American great again" will truly want to lose the Middle East or parts of Europe to those who will happily fill the void such a policy would leave.

This question in particular will be on the minds of Washington's allies and enemies alike in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, because in the "moderate" Arab world there is concern that America will continue its trend of abandoning its outposts, which began with Obama and could continue, or worsen, in the Trump era, and which would benefit Iran and its expansionist policies in the entire region.

Trump's victory is expected to improve Israeli-US relations, likely putting an end to the era of public and private clashes over matters such as construction in Jerusalem and large settlement blocs.

Improving the atmosphere on all levels, including at the very top, is certainly a very important development for Israel, and its diplomatic measures henceforth will be geared toward translating this atmosphere into concrete diplomatic facts on the ground.

There is now an opportunity for the close ties between Jerusalem and Washington to result in steps toward peace, or at least interim agreements that will not harm Israel's security and other interests, and we can hope this is what the President-elect was referring to in his interview.

Zalman Shoval has served twice as Israel's Ambassador to the US (1990-1993, 1998-2000) and was a long-serving member of the Knesset. © Israel Hayom, reprinted by permission, all rights reserved.

 

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