In a televised address to European Evangelicals last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to apply Israeli sovereignty to Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria and the Jordan Valley. Netanyahu cited U.S. President Donald Trump’s promise to recognize the annexation, adding that he is “confident” that Trump will “keep his pledge.”
Some observers saw Netanyahu’s prediction and the forum where it was made as a veiled threat: If Trump reneges on his promises, Evangelicals could desert him. It’s not an empty threat either. Trump is completely reliant on the support of millions of Christian believers, for whom Netanyahu and Jewish settlers are akin to gods.
If his current slide in the polls continues, by July — when Netanyahu plans to advance his annexation plans — Trump will need Evangelicals like a critical coronavirus patient needs a ventilator. He couldn’t care less about the ramifications of Israel’s proposed annexation, with its potential damage to the peace treaty with Jordan and threat of undermining the already strained ties with the Palestinians.
But even without Netanyahu’s perceived threat, chances are that his assessment is correct: Trump is likely to give the Israeli government, in whatever makeup, a green light for annexation. Not because he has the slightest interest in the “fulfillment of Zionism,” as Netanyahu described annexation, but because he is a reckless and irresponsible president who couldn’t care less about Israel’s wellbeing; the kind of president who prescribes Clorox as a remedy for coronavirus.
So far, Israeli public opinion has managed to persuade itself that there’s no connection between the two. As if there is one Trump, vain and ignorant, whose follies accelerated the coronavirus epidemic and most likely inflated, if not multiplied, the number of U.S. deaths from the disease. And then there’s Trump number 2, wise and courageous, who adores Israel and grants its every wish, as he should.
Another, far more realistic possibility is that there’s only one Trump, indivisible, and that a straight line connects his freakishly abysmal and frequently loony handling of the coronavirus crisis and his supposedly brave gestures towards Israel. Like his clueless denial of the disease, wanton undermining of health precautions and weird pharmaceutical prescriptions, Trump’s gestures towards Israel are irresponsible, hazardous and potentially poisonous.
What, in the final analysis, has Israel gained in tangible terms from Trump’s bounty of offerings? What advantages has it reaped from the transfer of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, from Trump’s recognition of its sovereignty over the Golan Heights, or from his son-in-law’s spectacularly inane "Deal of the Century," besides Netanyahu’s fawning tributes, alienation of the Palestinians and complete destruction of the peace process? Has Israel gotten stronger, healthier or more secure?
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Does an isolated and frightened Iran, on its knees because of U.S. sanctions and the coronavirus plague, have less motivation or opportunity to build a nuclear bomb following Trump’s abandonment of the 2015 nuclear deal — or far more?
Even if one accepts that Trump’s moves have a premium symbolic value for an Israeli nation increasingly addicted to lofty words and empty gestures, what’s in it for the U.S.? Trump’s pro-Israel moves have paralyzed the diplomatic process, erased America’s claim to serve as an honest broker and exacerbated Washington’s already tense relations with Europe and much of the world. And all for nothing, wrapped in diddly-squat, besides Netanyahu’s kowtowing and Evangelical worship. This is neither the way a sane superpower is supposed to conduct itself, nor a product of a rational foreign policy.
In terms of Israel’s health, wellbeing, unity and true security, Trump’s offerings — especially his approval of annexation — are like a cocktail concocted in his own private pharmacy: Bleach doused in ultra-violet light, garnished with hefty doses of hydroxychloroquine and what not.
Most of the world realizes these are bogus remedies that no reasonable person would imbibe, but Netanyahu’s Israel, like devout members of Trump’s fanatic GOP base, long to drink from his poisonous cup. It will bless itself with a hearty “l’chaim” and continue to worship the president of the U.S. — at least until Trump’s toxins enter the bloodstream and make Israel’s condition far worse than if he’d done nothing at all.