James Baker Warns Trump Against Being 'Israel's Lawyer'

'You have to be seen to be a semi-honest broker if you expect to bring the two sides together,' the Republican former U.S. chief diplomat tells Politico.

Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, left, and former Secretary of State James A. Baker, 2011.
AP

WASHINGTON, D.C. -Former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, one of the leading Republican figures in foreign policy in the past few decades, cautioned U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday against acting as "Israel's lawyer," and reiterated his longstanding objections to Israeli settlement construction.

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In an interview with Politico, Baker said, "I did take note in the campaign where President Trump said he wanted to be the president who solved the Arab-Israeli dispute."

"That would be really great. That would be big-time. If he could get that done, it would be huge. But, but. You can’t get that done if you are in effect going to act as Israel’s lawyer,"  Baker said.

As secretary of state in the administration of George H.W. Bush, Baker clashed frequently over the settlement issue with the Israeli government then headed by the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.

He  explained how in his opinion Trump could reach his goal:

"You have to be seen to be a semi-honest broker if you expect to bring the two sides together. Read the 'Art of the Deal' — that’s how you get things done. And you have to understand the positions on both sides and bring the two sides together if you’re going to be a mediator. I don’t know any other way."

Speaking with the website's Susan Glasser in the debut episode of a new podcast on global policy, Baker added:

"Now, with respect to settlements particularly, the reason every administration, Republican or Democrat, has opposed settlements since 1967—since the beginning of Israel—is because that forecloses the possibility of negotiating a peace on a basis for land for peace."

"Because you’re creating facts on the ground that prevent that from happening. And in effect, if you don’t have that UN Resolution 242 and 338 approach, land for peace, then I don’t know how you get there."

Baker also warned that "the demographics, if you go to a one-state solution, the demographics of Arab population versus Jewish population, will overwhelm Israel.

"So I think the two-state solution is very much in the interest of Israel and the future of Israel. That’s what every American leader has thought for a long, long time. Now, that may be changing. That’s certainly changing as far as, I think, the view of the current Israeli government is concerned, "Baker said.

Regarding Trump's election promise to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Baker said: "So we haven’t seen the embassy move yet, have we? So we don’t know. It may happen. If that happens, it’s going to make it a heck of a lot harder to even think about negotiating a peace deal, not to mention what the fallout will be in other countries in the region that would be opposed to that type of a move."

Baker met with Trump in May 2016 to discuss foreign policy issues. Last night the former secretary of state sat next to Vice President Mike Pence at the Super Bowl in Houston. Baker told Glasser he voted for Trump in the last election - a choice that wasn't obvious, since he is considered close to the Bush family, which did not support Trump.

Baker also praised Trump's Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, a former Exxon Mobile business chief, and disclosed that the two had gone hunting together for years.

"He's a Texan," Baker - himself a resident of the Lone Star state - said of Tillerson. Baker said he was not disturbed by Tillerson's business past in Russia.