Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could hardly conceal his excitement last week on hearing the news that Donald Trump had been elected U.S. president. He welcomed Mr. Trump as “a true friend of Israel,” a swipe at outgoing President Barack Obama, who was anything but a true friend in Mr. Netanyahu’s eyes.
And what, for Mr. Netanyahu, was not to like about the New York businessman about to enter the White House? During the exhaustive U.S. election campaign, Mr. Trump had asserted that Israel’s controversial settlements in the occupied West Bank were “not an obstacle to peace,” and that Israel required “secure borders,” meaning not the 1967 boundaries that once delineated the West Bank from the original Jewish state.
The Republican candidate also had vowed that the United States, under his administration, would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s “eternal capital” and would move the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv.
Most important, as far as Mr. Netanyahu is concerned, Mr. Trump said numerous times on the campaign trail that his “No. 1 priority” on taking office would be to dismantle the nuclear pact with Iran. This deal lifts international sanctions against Iran in exchange for Tehran’s agreement to curtail for the next 10 years the development of weapons grade uranium and to permit international inspection of its facilities.
“This deal is catastrophic for America, for Israel, for all of the Middle East,” Mr. Trump often said, much as Mr. Netanyahu has argued for the past two years.
As a further link, Mr. Trump was backed in his election bid by a fellow U.S. billionaire and casino owner, Sheldon Adelson, whose popular newspaper Israel Today is a strong supporter of Mr. Netanyahu.
Such is the enthusiasm for Mr. Trump that many of Israel’s more right-wing politicians called immediately after the election for expanding settlements in the more Palestinian sector of east Jerusalem and throughout the West Bank.
“The era of a Palestinian state is over,” declared Education Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the pro-settlement Jewish Home party.
Aryeh Deri, the ultra-Orthodox Interior Minister, called the Trump election a miracle. “We must truly be in Messianic times when everything will turn out favourably for the people of Israel.”
It fell to Mr. Netanyahu, and to Mr. Trump himself, to rain on this political parade.
The Israeli leader knows the coming Trump administration cannot simply tear up the agreement with Iran, because it was negotiated and signed not just by the United States, but by five other major powers – Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany – and approved by the United Nations Security Council.
As such, the agreement is part of international law and any unilateral move by Washington to revoke or renegotiate it would make the United States the outlaw and permit Iran to disregard the limitations imposed on its nuclear program.
Consequently, Mr. Netanyahu is not crowing about this political victory.
He also is urging no new settlements be authorized at this time and appears to be looking ahead to the prospect of negotiations with the Palestinian leadership, which may be more likely thanks to Mr. Trump’s election, his adviser, Dore Gold, said.
Mr. Trump said in a weekend interview with The Wall Street Journal that, rather than rule out a two-state solution, he hoped he could help broker a deal between Israelis and Palestinians “for humanity’s sake.”
As for moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, the plan was confirmed on Thursday by Jason Greenblatt, a senior Trump adviser on Jewish and Israeli affairs, who told Israel’s Army Radio he expected the pledge to be fulfilled.
“I think he said it, he is going to do it,” Mr. Greenblatt said. “He is a man who keeps his word. He recognizes the historical significance of the Jewish people to Jerusalem.”
Mr. Trump also recognizes the importance of Israel’s settlements in the West Bank, Mr. Greenblatt said. “The two sides are going to have to decide how to deal with that region, but it’s certainly not Mr. Trump’s view that settlement activity should be condemned and that it’s an obstacle for peace – because it is not the obstacle for peace.”
Mr. Greenblatt, reportedly a possible choice to be the next U.S. ambassador to Israel or peace envoy to the region, was asked he if expected such an appointment. “It’s a little too soon to tell,” he replied. “I would be honoured and privileged to serve in that kind of role. It would be an incredible opportunity and a bracha [blessing],” he said.Report Typo/Error