Ex-Israeli Defense Chief Ya'alon Fears Trump's Many U.S. Critics Could Turn anti-Israel, Too

Moshe Ya'alon cautions Israel that its close identification with the Republican Party could cost it support from the Democratic Party in the long run.

Moshe Ya'alon at the annual Herzliya Conference, June 16, 2016.
Moti Milrod

WASHINGTON - Former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon has warned that Israel was at risk of becoming too closely affiliated with the Republican Party in the United States, and that "anti-Trump sentiment could become anti-Israel sentiment."

Ya'alon, in his first public remarks since announcing plans to start a new political party, said at American University in Washington on Monday that Israel should "not be involved in American politics," and that it was "paying a price" for appearing too close to one party over the other.

Ya'alon told the audience of 200 that Israel should seek to maintain "a bipartisan policy" and stay away from "being identified with one party or another" in the internal American discussion.

Ya'alon said it was "his fear" that if Israel became identified with the Republican Party and loses support on the Democratic side, it could suffer from the results of the growing partisan divide in the United States. While Ya'alon did not specifically mention Prime Minister Netanyahu, he did say that Israel was "paying a price" already on this front.

Ya'alon also said, however, that Israel has high expectations when it comes to its relationship with the U.S. under the Trump administration.

In reply to a question from the event's moderator, Aaron David Miller, a former senior diplomat, on what he would tell Trump if he had five minutes alone with the president, Ya'alon said he'd tell Trump to focus on Iran's dangerous activities in the region, and to realize that peace between Israel and its' neighbors was a long-term project, and not something that could be achieved in one term.

"You're not going to solve these problems in your term, even if you serve for eight years," Ya'alon said, summing up his message to Trump.

Ya'alon said that some Israeli right-wingers had unrealistic expectations of the Trump administration, and that decisions on annexing parts of the West Bank to Israel would put Israel at risk of becoming a binational state.

Ya'alon repeated his own proposals, calling for "building peace from the bottom up," strengthening Palestinian institutions, and keeping Israel's security control of the West Bank for years and even decades ahead, until peace becomes a real possibility.

The former minister, who quit in May over differences with Netanyahu, said further he saw a global leadership crisis taking place "all across the globe." He said that more and more leaders were "navigating according to the winds of social media and the likes on Facebook."

Ya'alon said that "this kind of leadership" was the main reason for his resignation 10 months ago.  "Leadership is not about being popular, it's about making the right decisions," he said.

Ya'alon said he was "afraid" of "the new developments in the political culture all over the globe - populism rather than leadership, preferring alternative facts over the reality, and manipulating certain ideas for benefits."

On the policy front, however, much of what he proposed was similar to Netanyahu's policies, particularly on the issues of Iran, Syria and the Palestinians.

Since his departure from Netanyahu's cabinet, Ya'alon has spent a great deal of time in Washington and elsewhere in the United States.  

He served as a senior visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and has held meetings with politicians, journalists and possible donors, presenting his plan to create a new center-right party in Israel to challenge Netanyahu in the next elections.

Ya'alon said he was "very optimistic about Israel" and that if elected prime minister, he would focus on the country's domestic problems such as housing and education.