Facing New Challenges
By Yaakov Amidror
February 10, 2017
Ahead of Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu's visit to Washington next week and his Feb. 15 meeting with President
Donald Trump, the differences between the Israeli Right and Left's worldviews,
especially with regard to the Palestinian issue, has become more poignant.
The Left is concerned that under the
new administration, which is more sympathetic to Israel and is not as wary of
the Arab world's reactions as its predecessor, the Right will all but eliminate
any chance of resuming the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process --
something that is bound to happen if Israel accelerates construction across
Judea and Samaria or pursues the odd annexation here and there.
The Right, for its part, hopes that
now, free of the constraints imposed by the previous American administration, it
will be able to realize its dream and integrate Judea and Samaria, or at least
the main settlement blocs, into Israel.
In between is the majority of the
Israeli public, the wide and mostly silent center, which is not privy to the
fine print on these issues and mostly just wants peace and quiet, with no
physical involvement with the Palestinians.
If Israel decides to change direction
and effectively close the door on future negotiations, it will be unable to
avoid the question of the Palestinian population and its civilian-political
The need to deal with this issue is
logical, even if we accept the (probably correct) assumption that in the next
few years the Palestinian leadership will not seriously negotiate a reasonable
solution to the conflict.
It is precisely now, when Israel is
free of the limitations imposed by the previous American administration, that
Israel shoulders even greater responsibility and must explore what the correct
policies to pursue are. The leeway the Trump administration may give Israel will
allow it to operate more freely, but this freedom is not without its risks:
Marching solely to the beat of the Right's drum may lead to the point of no
return of a binational state, so Israel must search for an answer not only to
avoid being summoned to The Hague, but because of the importance of this issue
for Israel itself.
A new Middle East?
With all due respect to the settlement
enterprise, one must remember that Trump has a few other things to consider when
it comes to the Middle East, and all of them are important to Israel as well.
Trump and Netanyahu are likely to
discuss a myriad of regional issues, including how the U.S. plans to deal with
radical Sunni Islam, which has grown exponentially stronger over the past few
Sunni Islam has both purely terrorist
aspects, as evident by the rise of the Islamic State group, and political
aspects, as evident by the Muslim Brotherhood's fight against the regimes of
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and Jordan's King Abdullah.
The administration's controversial ban
on the entry of individuals from seven majority-Muslim countries -- Iran, Iraq,
Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen -- to the United States, aims to prevent
terrorist elements from infiltrating into the U.S., but Trump has yet to shape
an overall policy on dealing with terrorism, or with the political questions
plaguing the Arab world.
Another major challenge is curtailing
Iran's aspirations of regional domination. The Islamic republic is trying to
build a Shiite axis running through Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, and this
dynamic axis challenges the U.S.'s friends in the region, and its members could,
within a few years, acquire military nuclear capability as a result of a bad
agreement reached by the previous administration and Iran.
These moves already constitute a threat
to the U.S., and the danger will only increase. The new administration has
already clearly stated that it plans to take a more active approach against
Iran, and it indeed reacted firmly to the ballistic missile test it conducted
last week, but it is still unclear how far the new president wants to -- and can
-- go. After all, this may lead to a complex military conflict.
These are two very important issues for
Israel, and the Iranian issue is critical. With this respect, we have to ask
ourselves how we can contribute to shaping U.S. policy and how we may be of
assistance in the region, because that is what being a strategic ally means.
This is where the issues discussed here
converge: It may turn out that Israel's moves in Judea and Samaria hinder the
effort to outline an anti-Iranian alliance in the region, led by the U.S. and
with Israel as a partner.
In other words, in this case, the
ideological approach to the settlements may contradict the strategic need
arising from the new situation in the Middle East at a time when dramatic
regional changes are possible. Should it become clear that the U.S. may pursue
new alliances in the region only if Israel is perceived as refraining from
making the situation worse for the Palestinians -- or even as promoting
negotiations -- Israel would face a significant intellectual and political
It seems the U.S. also intends on
pursuing rapprochement with Russia, but here too things are not simple.
President Barack Obama also pursued
dialogue with Moscow, but found out the hard way that President Vladimir Putin
sees the world, and Russia's position in it, differently.
Moreover, understanding the U.S.'s
limitations when it comes to exercising force, Putin succeeded in both carving
positions of influence in areas far from home, such as Syria, and ruffling the
EU's and NATO's feathers to the point of military friction, such as in Ukraine.
It is hard to tell whether the Trump
administration plans on meeting Russia's moves with stride or acquiescence, or
if it will side with the EU. The positions expressed during the election
campaign, implying openness toward Russia, will undoubtedly have to stand the
test of reality.
Naturally, any developments in Russia
will contribute to the complexity of Middle East affairs, as Russia is an
important ally of Iran in Syria, and therefore it indirectly contributes to the
Islamic republic's growing influence in the region.
These are all international, external
challenges, but the Trump administration will also have to deal with serious
domestic challenges. Israel must not be perceived as taking sides on internal
Naturally, Israel will work closely
with the new administration to promote its own interests, but it must act in a
way that would express bipartisan support as much as possible, and all in the
uneasy atmosphere of an American society divided by the rough elections.