Where Does President-elect Donald Trump Stand on Israel?

Donald Trump started out as a ‘neutral dealmaker’ on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. By the end of the campaign, he was advising Netanyahu to build settlements.

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
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Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) afternoon general session in Washington March 21, 2016.
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) afternoon general session in Washington March 21, 2016. Credit: AP
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

Since announcing his candidacy for president of the United States, Donald Trump has changed his tune on Israel dramatically: From the “neutral dealmaker” who kept his cards close to his chest at the beginning of the race, he was sounding more and more like some of the hardline members of the Israeli government by its conclusion.

After initially refusing to say whether, as president, he would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital, Trump has since vowed to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. After initially suggesting he would require Israel to recompense the U.S. for the foreign aid it provides, Trump has since suggested he might even increase it.

And after initially referring to the West Bank settlements as a “huge sticking point” in peace talks, Trump has since urged Netanyahu to “move forward” with settlement construction in response to Palestinian rocket fire.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking with Donald Trump, September 25, 2016.Credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO

A few days before the election, Trump’s Israel Advisory Committee published a policy statement that provides the best indication to date of where the new administration will stand on the Middle East. Although the statement was not formally endorsed by the president-elect, its authors noted that “each of these positions have been discussed with Mr. Trump and the Trump campaign, and most have been stated, in one form or another, by Mr. Trump in various interviews or speeches given by him or on his social media accounts.”

The key point in the document is that a Trump administration will not feel itself beholden to the longstanding United States commitment to a two-state solution.

Credit: JTA, Youtube

“A two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians appears impossible as long as the Palestinians are unwilling to renounce violence against Israel or recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state,” the statement says.

It puts the onus for the ongoing stalemate in the peace process entirely on the Palestinians, noting that their leadership “has undermined any chance for peace with Israel by raising generations of Palestinian children on an educational program of hatred of Israel and Jews.”

The statement makes no mention of the West Bank settlements being an impediment to peace – a longstanding position of the U.S. State Department. Instead, it notes that “the U.S. cannot support the creation of a new state where terrorism is financially incentivized, terrorists are celebrated by political parties and government institutions, and the corrupt diversion of foreign aid is rampant.”

The statement goes on to stress that any attempt to impose a solution on Israel will be rejected – including any attempt to force a deal on Israel through a U.N. Security Council resolution.

Nor will the U.S. put any pressure on Israel to relinquish territory. “Israel’s maintenance of defensible borders that preserve peace and promote stability in the region is a necessity,” the statement says. “Pressure should not be put on Israel to withdraw to borders that make attacks and conflict more likely.”

Another controversial commitment is that the U.S. embassy will be moved to Jerusalem. The statement notes that the new administration will recognize the city as “the eternal and indivisible capital of the Jewish State.”

Regarding U.S. military support, the statement holds out the possibility that more money may be available under Trump. While the recent Memorandum of Understanding between Israel and the United States provides for an extra $8 billion in annual assistance over the next 10 years, “a Trump administration will ensure that Israel receives maximum military, strategic and tactical cooperation from the United States, and the MOU will not limit the support that we give,” the statement says.

The statement also promises that the United States will fight any attempt to “unfairly” single out Israel for international sanctions and will crack down more forcefully on BDS activists.

Specifically, it mentions singling out Israel for “special labeling requirements on Israeli products or boycotts on Israeli goods.” (The European Union requires that all Israeli exports from the West Bank be labeled as such so that they do not benefit from duty-free status on the continent like other Israeli goods.)

The United States will take strong measures, according to the statement, “both diplomatic and legislative,” to "thwart actions that are intended to limit commercial relations with Israel, or persons or entities doing business in Israeli areas, in a discriminatory manner.”

The reference to “Israeli areas” suggests that action will also be taken against those who boycott only the West Bank settlements and not all of Israel. In this context, the statement notes that “the false notion that Israel is an occupier should be rejected.” In addition, it says, “the Trump administration will ask the Justice Department to investigate coordinated attempts on college campuses to intimidate students who support Israel.”

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