President-Elect Trump Might Undo Obamaís Hostility to Israel
By Jonathan Schanzer
December 30, 2016
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is counting the
days until Barack
Obama leaves office. So are many supporters of Israel here in the
United States, including members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.
Itís not just last weekís abstention on an anti-Israel
measure at the United Nations Security Council. Nor was it the long-winded
speech about Israeli settlements by President Obamaís secretary of State, John
Kerry, earlier this week.
Itís the sum total of Obamaís harmful Middle East
policies that have imperiled Israel: a deeply-flawed Iran deal that gifted Iran
$150 billion in sanctions relief; the failure to stabilize the war in Syria,
which has put Hezbollah, ISIS and other bad actors on Israelís northern
border; and the mishandling of the Arab Spring, which has brought chronic
instability throughout Israelís already-nasty neighborhood.
Will the next administration fix all of that? Itís
a tall order.
The Iran deal can certainly be undone. ISIS can be
defeated. Iran and Hezbollah can be driven from Syria. And some of the
regionís nasty internecine conflicts can be mediated. The problem is that this
canít all be accomplished at once. Untangling Obamaís mess will require
prioritization, patience and, above all, thoughtful policies.
But other things can be fixed more quickly. On Jan. 20, the
relationship between the new president and Israelís prime minister seems set
to improve immeasurably. Based on statements from both leaders, the ďspecial
relationshipĒ will be special again. Donald
Trump appears poised to rhetorically defend Israel against its many
enemies and to do nothing to prevent Israel from defending itself. He also
appears ready to veto any new anti-Israel measures at the U.N. Security Council.
Last weekís U.N. vote is not likely to be overturned,
however. This was almost certainly part of Obamaís calculus. Obama
understood full well that the measure would pave the way for the
delegitimization of Israel by some countries, and even put wind in the sails of
the propaganda and economic warfare campaign against Israel known as Boycott,
Divestment and Sanctions.
True, the outgoing president signed a generous Memorandum
of Understanding in September granting $3.8 billion per year in U.S. aid to
Israel for a decade. But his eleventh-hour move at the U.N. now promises to
subtract from this assistance.
Since the U.N. vote, pro-Israel lawmakers and policy wonks
have been considering moves that the new administration might make to mitigate
the damage and perhaps even try to inoculate Israel in the future.
Some, notably Sens. Lindsey
Graham (R-S.C.) and Ted
Cruz (R-Texas), have called for steep cuts in U.S. funding to the U.N.
Such a move would put the U.N. on notice for its pathological fixation on
Israel, but also its irredeemable ineffectuality and incalculable corruption.
There are other ways of sending a tough message short of a
full funding cut. This could include working to abolish the U.N. Human Rights
Council, through which the worst dictatorships and nastiest regimes regularly
accuse Israel of alleged crimes, but stand by uselessly while Bashar Assad,
Iran, Hezbollah and Russia have carried out unspeakable atrocities in Syria.
Another step could be to either cut funding to or demand
the reform of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, which is a U.N. body dedicated
entirely to supporting the Palestinian refugee population. UNRWA recognizes some
6.5 million Palestinians as refugees today.
Except this population is overwhelmingly made up of the
children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the original refugee
populations from the 1948 and 1967 wars. Indeed, the original refugee population
has dwindled over the years to an estimated 30,000-50,000. In other words, UNRWA
has been perpetuating the Palestinian-Israel conflict through heredity, and by
not insisting that this population be resettled, as the UN has done with every
single other refugee population.
Other legislators, including Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinin
(R-Fla.), have repeatedly called for cuts in U.S. assistance to the Palestinian
Authority. These calls will almost certainly increase as Congress seeks to
reassure Israel in the wake of Obamaís lame-duck maneuvers. Legislators in the
past have pointed to incitement, the paying of salaries to convicted terrorists
in Israeli prisons, and corruption as justification. They will now point to the
Palestinian Authorityís complicity in the recent U.N. vote.
Others have talked about shutting down or downgrading the
Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) diplomatic representation here in the
United States. Itís certainly fair to ask why the United States continues to
recognize the PLO as the sole Palestinian representative for diplomatic
negotiations when it has refused to negotiate with Israel for years.
But none of this would necessarily protect Israel from the
boycotts and assaults on its legitimacy that may stem from the U.N. vote.
Thatís why some within the incoming administration are reportedly mulling
reprisals for European nations that wage economic warfare against Israel. There
is also talk of injecting new funds, leadership and urgency into the bureaucracy
to fight politically motivated boycotts against America or any of its allies.
Finally, there is talk of moving the U.S. embassy from Tel
Aviv to Jerusalem. The move is, of course, enshrined in law, even though Obama
and his predecessors have wielded their waiver authorities to block it. Moving
the embassy is, by now, a well-known objective of Trumpís incoming ambassador,
David Friedman. Should it come to pass, it will be seen as a sign of unequivocal
friendship and a full-throated recognition of Israelís struggle for security
and international legitimacy. That is something Israelis havenít seen for