Israel's Dangerous Cozying Up to Trump

However different the regimes, we should remember the embarrassment when Israel got chummy with the apartheid government in South Africa

Palestinians burn Israeli flags above a poster bearing images of Donald Trump, Mike Pence and Benjamin Netanyahu, Hebron, December 13, 2017.
Hazem Bader / AFP

In their conflict with Israel, the Palestinians are making a considerable effort to portray the Americans as a dishonest broker. In Haaretz’s Hebrew edition this week, columnist Raviv Drucker went so far as to say that the Americans were never an honest broker. Every American president pretended to be but supported Israel, and Donald Trump removed the mask and reflected reality – that America is against the Arabs.

There’s no evidence for this in the history of Israeli-American relations. Dwight Eisenhower was stern toward Israel after the Sinai Campaign, and John F. Kennedy, with his outrageous attempts to thwart the nuclear reactor in Dimona, almost caused a rift in relations with David Ben-Gurion. Moshe Dayan described words Jimmy Carter uttered as “a brutal conversation.” But Carter, who has remained hostile to Israel to this day, used his special skills to achieve peace between Israel and Egypt.

In Bill Clinton’s days the peace agreement with Jordan and the Oslo Accords were signed; even supporters of these documents don’t describe them as biased toward Israel. Barack Obama entered office unsympathetic to Israel’s needs and chose to speak to the Middle East from Cairo rather than Jerusalem. But ultimately he was generous in ensuring Israel’s security needs, despite the provocations of Benjamin Netanyahu, who tried to influence U.S. policy under Obama through the back window.

Trump is a different kind of president. His speech is vulgar, his style is coarse and the world doesn’t take him seriously, so he can make noises that in other times would end with a severing of diplomatic relations, but in 2017 they’re nothing more than Twitter posts.

In this context, Trump rectified a historical injustice in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but, as is his wont, without thinking it through. Had Henry Kissinger been at his side, he would no doubt have persuaded Trump to recognize West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, with a spokesman later noting that, obviously, as part of an arrangement with the Palestinians, the Western Wall would be Israeli sovereignty territory. The vague ranting about recognizing Jerusalem may turn out to be too much of a strategic achievement for us to handle.

Two problems now emerge in Israel’s relations with the United States. One is that Trump is unpredictable. Perhaps Netanyahu, who sees himself as a great diplomatic talent, believes he can ride the tiger, but there’s no certainty what an administration that has won so much praise from Jerusalem can offer to solve the conflict. In any case, this is still for the long term.

The other problem is in the essence of Netanyahu and Trump’s relations. It’s convenient for the current government that Trump is president. But the two leaders, carelessly, have become fixed in the international consciousness and in their respective countries as Siamese twins. Netanyahu is harming Israel and America when he publicly commends the president or his UN ambassador every other day, even if his words stroke Trump’s ego.

It’s good that the United States vetoed a UN resolution seeking to undermine Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. But Netanyahu is clinging and isn’t letting go.

It would have been better for the Foreign Ministry’s spokesman, or a minister, to thank Ambassador Nikki Haley, even if this would have resonated less in the international media. This is because this Siamese bond is deepening the alienation of Democrats and liberal Republicans toward Israel. One day the wheel will turn and Israel will find itself in close proximity to Trump, the most shameful president in his country’s history.

Netanyahu’s cozying up to Trump is bad for Israel. We should remember what happened when Israel was caught doing the same thing with the apartheid regime in South Africa. The situation isn’t the same, but the embarrassment will be very similar.