By Colette Avital | Tel-Aviv October 22,2019
These are days of uncertainty for America and Israel . The results of a second round of elections in Israel have been inconclusive and it is unclear who will succeed in forming a government and when. On the other side of the ocean, Donald Trump is facing real challenges, unrest at home, growing prospects of his impeachment , crisis in his relations with Turkey and Iran , and it is unclear if he will pay the same attention to the US relations with Israel
By late October President Donald Trump's "deal of the century" designed to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had yet to be published as , even though he had promised to do so after Israel's September elections. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that it would be disclosed "within weeks". Upon his recent resignation from his position as President Trump's envoy to the Middle East, Jason Greenblat expressed his hope that the "vision" created by his team would prove appealing enough for Israelis and Palestinians to go down the road of difficult negotiations. With the exception of the first economic chapter of the plan, we are still in the dark on what the "new " American foreign policy is all about. Is it the two state solution ? One state ? As expected, the guessing game is on, rumors and fake "disclosures" have been numerous and we still do not know if the plan will be seen by both sides as a basis of to restart negotiations or if it will be rejected by both . Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu frequently boasts that relations between the United States and Israel have never been as close, as warm and as intimate as during President Trump's term of office. If one were to judge the proximity between countries by measuring the closeness between leaders, then relations between the US and Israel have never been better Indeed there seems to be a symbiosis between the two men who share a similar world view . After years of pent-up tensions between Netanyahu and the Obama Administration, Trump's rise to power ( openly supported by Netanyahu) was considered nothing short of a salvation. Trump's arrival on the scene was an omen of radical 2 change . After all, his slogans touting a "Make America Great Again " and "America first" coincided with Netanyahu's ideology of a "strong Israel", with him at the helm of the country. Both men share right-wing nationalistic views, both despise and vilify the left and the "hostile" media ,both are frequently attacking diplomacy . Trump's reservations early on in his presidency regarding America's share in NATO, stating the that the Europeans should pay more for their defense, his quarrels with European leaders , his departure from agreements jibed with Netanyahu's own ideas . In particular Netanyahu considered Mr. Trump's decision to withdraw from the nuclear agreement signed with Iran in Vienna in July 2015 by President Obama and the P5+1 European countries and China as a crucial vindication of his own strategy to protect Israel from Teheran's expanding reach in the region. Indeed prior to the Trump Presidency, Netanyahu had openly opposed President Obama's Iran deal and had gone so far as to publicly advocate against it in a joint meeting of the House of Representatives and the Senate on Capitol Hill Trump's arrival on the scene was greeted by Netanyahu with a deep sigh of relief and with high hopes for a renewed sense of partnership with the United States – this after eight "lean " years, years of open hostility with Obama and his Administration. During his visit to Washington in February 2017, Netanyahu declared that "there is no greater supporter of the Jewish People and the Jewish State than President Trump". More recently the Israeli Prime Minister made this relationship and Trump's "gifts" to Israel a focal point in his electoral campaigns. Photographs of Trump and Netanyahu warmly shaking hands appeared on billboards around the country. After all, under his watch Trump overturned longstanding US policies by recognizing the Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and by moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem. For his part , Netanyahu reciprocated. Israel under his leadership literally became a "cheer leader' for Trump's policies, supporting every single one of his decisions, further endangering Israel's relations with the Democratic party. President Trump never claimed that he wanted to maintain the "status quo" or the stability in the area. Quite the opposite :all along his main purpose was to bring about change – change of all of his predecessor's decisions or policies –be they domestic or foreign. His son- in- law and close advisor, Jared Kushner is quoted as saying: "Our aim cannot be the preservation of the situation as it was. You have to take risks and break objects in order to get what you want". For the Palestinian Authority , Trump's ideas of change were not a good omen The transfer of the American Embassy to Jerusalem was felt as a slap in its face, a way to void any future negotiations of content. Then followed the decisions to cut $ 360 million from UNRWA, added to another cut of $ 25 million from hospitals in East Jerusalem and the cancellation of dialogue programs between Israeli and Palestinian youth. Did Trump and his team really believe that by "punishing "the Palestinians it would bring them back to the negotiating table? For many, Trump's unpredictable , capricious and unstable behavior, his frequent changes of heart, make it difficult to guess what will come next .After all of late Trump has expressed his willingness to meet with Iran's leader Khamena'i, a far cry from his previous belligerent stance. And the illusion that in the White House "we have the best friend of Israel ever" may be short -lived. Since 1962, Israel has enjoyed a "special relationship" with the US . This term, and what it implies, is rare in international relations, and it is certainly unusual when it comes to defining the relations between a small country, like Israel, and a superpower like the United States. In fact this relation developed gradually : even though President Truman was first to recognize Israel upon its 4 birth as an independent country, during the first decade of Israel's existence those were cold and distant. Trying to understand America's relations with Israel, one must keep in mind two constant, yet at times dialectically conflicting elements : on the one hand America's interests within the regional context; and on the other hand the deeply shared set of values between the two nations; on the one hand America's strategic interests in the Middle East, and on the other the Bible, the identification with the saga of and the solidarity with the Jewish people , the early pioneering in the Holy Land, and the image of Israel as the only democracy in the area . And over the years there has been a third, important element in this equation: the role of the prestigious American Jewish community. In the first years of its existence, the cold war and the weight of the Arab states in the Middle East belittled Israel's importance in the mind of America's policy makers. Leading figures in American Foreign policy, Secretaries of State Dean Acheson and George Marshall, as well as the top echelons in the Middle East Bureau of the State Department who had nourished over the years anti-Zionist feelings and warned against the creation of the State of Israel. They believed in harmony with the Arab world; and now that Israel was a fact it was considered "a strategic and political burden". Thus, the US imposed an arms embargo on Israel during the critical days of its war of independence (1948-49). Economic aid during those years, when Israel was literally fighting for its survival, was rather meager. Moreover, in 1953 the US imposed economic sanctions on Israel when it diverted the course of the Jordan river in order to build the National Water carrier ; and in 1957, following the Suez Campaign , led by Israel with France and Great Britain, it threatened to impose a naval blockade and expel Israel from the United Nations should the latter not withdraw from the conquered Sinai desert.
5 The term special relationship was first used by President Kennedy in a meeting with Israel's Foreign Minister Golda Meir in 1962. At that time the Soviet Union had already delivered massive supplies of armament to the Arab counties mainly to Egypt, endangering Israel's security . The United States agreed to start supplying arms to Israel in limited quantities, while in return Israel committed to conduct a restrained nuclear policy. America's attitude towards Israel started shifting after Israel's crushing victory during the 1967 Six Day War and the dramatic change in its geo-strategic position. Israel's strategic importance to American interests in the area became clear in 1970,as a consequence of Russia's ever growing grip on Egypt. But the real shift occurred only in September 1970 when Israel, at America's request, came to the rescue of Jordan against Syria's threatened invasion. Israel's swift response deterred Syria Relations grew closer over the years, while successive administrations increased economic, military and political assistance to Israel. Even though successive Presidents found different ways to express their support of Israel, the basic tenets of the American Foreign policy in the conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors remained steady over the years. Formulated by Secretary of State William Rogers in 1969 the famous Rogers Plan remained valid for all successive administrations : Israel's right to exist within recognized and secure borders, the return of territories occupied during the 1967 war, with minor border rectifications, as stipulated in the UN Security Council resolution 242, and the illegality of settlements. At the same time one must keep in mind that during those first years, the single issue which determined the attitude of successive
6 Administrations , regardless whether Republican or Democrat, to regional conflicts was the cold war. The fear that such conflicts would allow the Soviet Union to "fish in troubled waters" and gain influence in that area, fostered the "containment policy". It generated at times a more active, sometimes aggressive involvement of the United states and attempts to exert pressures . Thus , for instance the attempt to put pressure on Israel, first through the Alpha Plan in 1955, a plan which proposed that Israel give up parts of the territories gained in the 1948 war, in return for which the Arab countries would end to the Arab Economic Boycott which greatly damaged the fragile economy of the young state, and then through the Rogers Plan of 1969 The Soviet involvement in planning the 1973 Yom Kippur war and the massive supply of armament both to Egypt and Syria greatly motivated the Americans to come to Israel's rescue. The disengagement agreements between Israel and Egypt and Israel and Syria were brokered by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger through his famous "shuttle diplomacy" and he did not hesitate to exert pressure on Israel during the so-called "reassessment period" But is with President Jimmy Carter that the United States became an active and full partner in peace making. True, it was Israel's initiative and President Sadat's dramatic visit to Israel in 1977 that paved the way to peace and that brought about a further rapprochement between the US and Israel. However it was President Carter who insisted, mediated, and ironed out the last difficulties. The Israel-Egyptian peace treaty signed in Washington in March 1979 by Israel the US and Egypt made the United States a full partner in the agreement .In a separate Memorandum of Agreement concluded the same day, the United States spelled out its commitments to Israel should the treaty be 7 violated . An American led peace keeping force was posted in the Sinai desert. In addition the treaty could be rescinded only if the three partners would agree In the early 1990's, the collapse of the Soviet Union brought to an end the cold war and the bi-polar world. No longer threatened by its former enemy, and now the only super power, the United States could afford to behave in a more relaxed and patient way in regional conflicts, putting forward suggestions at times, trying to mediate, but not threatening or imposing solutions The eight years of Bill Clinton's Presidency present a clear example of this change of attitude: Thus, even though President Clinton was an ardent supporter of peace and he became an active agent in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, his involvement came only when requested by Israel. Indeed the famous Oslo agreement between Israel and the Palestinians was signed in September 13, 1993 on the lawn of the White House and Bill Clinton added his signature, but the President had been informed of the historic breakthrough only a few days before its completion. Both the Peace Agreement with Jordan signed in 1994 and the Oslo II agreement signed in 1995 were reached by Israel alone, with no American help. Towards the end of his term in 2000 when he hosted the Camp David Summit, and later on, towards the near end of his term when he put forward his famous "parameters" President Clinton tried to mediate, offered ideas but the notion of threats or sanctions no longer existed. President George W. Bush did not intend at the outset to conduct an active foreign policy, yet all of this changed after 9/11. From being an "agent of stability" the US under him adopted a policy of "agent of change" Bush launched his famous "Road Map" for a gradual agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, and led important regional projects such as MEPI ( Middle East Peace Initiative) and BMENA ( Broader Middle East and North Africa).
8 Fighting against terrorism became thereafter one of the priorities of American foreign policy. One could not imagine two individuals more different in world view than Barak Obama ad Benjamin Netanyahu . Obama's first Presidential visit to Egypt alone in our area ignoring Israel, his conciliatory message to the Arab world, his statements on Palestinian rights, all these enhanced Netanyahu's initial suspicions and animosity. And yet Obama appointed on his first day in office a special envoy to the Middle East, Senator George Mitchell. Born in the US of a Lebanese descent family, Mitchell, a former leader of the Senate, brought to the table his experience and a knowledge of the area. His efforts to resolve the Middle East conflict were not often endorsed by the government In Jerusalem where they were perceived as unduly charitable towards the Palestinians. In stark contrast, Donald Trump, notwithstanding all his declarations in support of Israel, started taking practical steps only one and a half year into his Presidency xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Over the years, Israel has been privileged with unprecedented political support by the United States, mainly in its troubled relations with the United Nations . When it came to American politics it has prided itself of bi-partisan support: both Democrats and Republicans in both houses of Congress have supported Israel's vital interests, its security and wellbeing. Israeli Governments, leading politicians of all stripes and diplomats have all understood the importance of maintaining this balance. The policy and practice of the all powerful pro-Israel lobby in Washington, AIPAC over the years has been to ensure the support of members on both sides of the aisle to Israel and to the necessary proposed legislation .
9 And indeed Israel has been the largest cumulative recipient of US foreign assistance since World War II. To date the US has provided Israel some US$ 142.3 billion in bilateral assistance and missile defense funding. Almost all US bilateral aid to Israel is military (until recently 73% has to be spent in America) , although between 1971-2007 Israel has also received significant economic assistance. In 2016, during President Obama's term of duty, Israel and the United States signed a MOU ( Memorandum of Agreement) on military aid covering ten years from 2019 to 2028 , the most important agreement ever signed. Under the terms of the agreement the US pledged to provide US$ 38 billion in military aid ( US$ 33 billion in foreign military financing and US$ 5 billion in missile defense appropriations. This MOU replaced a previous agreement signed during the Clinton days of US$ 30 billion for the ten-year period which ran out in 2018. Israel is probably the first international operator of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the 5th generation of stealth aircrafts. So far Israel has purchased fifty such planes Needless to stress these agreements and the regular strategic dialogues taking place between Israeli and American high officials have been fostered by Democratic Presidents. One must however stress that the policy of all Israeli Governments has been all along that Israel "can defends itself by itself" without the presence or intervention of America troops. Historically , the Democratic Party has been a staunch supporter of Israel. It has done so in early days, supporting the creation of the State . At the outset Zionism was perceived as a struggle against colonialism, and Israel as an island of democracy, equality and
10 social justice in the midst of a stormy ocean. Even though over the years some Democrats have been critical of Israel's occupation policies, sympathy for its predicament and complex realities has prevailed in the wake of the terrorist attacks against it Regrettably Netanyahu has significantly undermined this support. He is the only Israeli Prime Minister who has openly identified with one side of the political spectrum. Criticism by the Democratic Party of the policies of the right wing Israeli Government, its settlement expansions, the anti-democratic laws it initiated, could be expected; but Netanyahu's behavior turned this slow tendency into a free fall. Naming a settlement on the Golan Heights in Trump's name (" Trump Heights") raised quite a few Democratic eyebrows. Netanyahu's unequivocal support for some of Trump's most controversial decisions embarrassed many in the Jewish community and made it easy for some politicians to consider him a "collaborator" A real rift with the Democratic Party occurred recently when the Prime Minister, at Trump's request denied entry to Israel to two Moslem law-makers , Representatives Tlaib and Omar on grounds that they support the BDS movement .In truth Trump's request had nothing to do with the two women's convictions, but to his animosity to the young Democrats. According to opinion polls published recently by the Pew Research Center democrats are more critical of the Israel's right wing policies than of the Palestinian Authority A worsening of Israel's relations with the Democratic Party has engendered a real crisis in its relations with the important Jewish community in America. That community enjoys unprecedented success and influence. A majority of American Jews – some 70% - have traditionally supported the Democratic party and have been some of its biggest contributors . They have identified with the liberal values of the Democratic Party, with its struggle for human rights , race and gender equality. They applauded the election, for 11 the first time in American history, of an African American President. Israel's open criticism of the Obama administration added fuel to the fire in already existing differences on the issue of religious pluralism . American Jews have a more liberal orientation while in Israel the law operates with a strict rabbinic interpretation of Judaism. However, an additional nail in the proverbial coffin was added when Netanyahu remained silent to President Trump 's allegations that Jews who support the Democratic Party are disloyal to their country and to Israel. In recent weeks a cold wind is blowing over Israel's expectations from Washington. After Netanyahu's setback in the first round of elections, the tone has turned colder. Netanyahu's hope for yet another gift before the second round of elections – a defense treaty- has remained unanswered. One should however note that all Israeli governments in the past have had reservations to such an agreement, because by its very nature it would limit Israel's freedom of decision Moreover, in the region Trump's decision to withdraw his troops from Syria and to reduce altogether America's presence in the Middle East has given Putin's Russia the upper hand in that country while at the same time enhancing Iran's influence . His growing threats and almost open confrontation with Iran have proved empty. Thus Iran's alleged attack on Saudi oil fields has remained unanswered. While his sanctions may have affected Iran's budget, they have had no real political impact. Much to Prime Minister Netanyahu's chagrin Trump has agreed to meet with the Supreme leader – but the latter has humiliated both Presidents Macron and Trump by his pre-condition of eliminating US sanctions prior to such a meeting. Saudi Arabia and the Emirates are rightfully concerned. And Israel too has reason for concern: Iran's attack in Saudi Arabia has shown increased military capabilities in preciseness and sophistication. The American retreat from its commitments, the green light given to Turkey to attack the 12 northern part of Syria , thus abandoning to their fate its long standing allies, the Kurds, should be a wakeup call .After all ,the destruction of ISIS and the demise of the Islamic Khalifate have been America's first priority , and that task had been largely entrusted to the Kurd who paid a very high price for their success. By allowing an attack on the Kurds Trump not only contravened one of the fundamental principles in American foreign policy: standing by one's allies, he has endangered the Kurdish achievements and set free more than 10,000 ISIS fighters held prisoners by them For many opinion makers in this part of the world , Trump's recent behavior poses a serious question mark on his commitment to Israel if and when need may arise. The task of the next Israeli Government, be it center left of center right will have to be to reassess its strategic deployment, and continue to rely, as in the past, only on itself.