Israelis Are Worried about Donald Trump
By Gregg Roman and
Eylon Aslan Levy
March 24, 2016
Where does Donald Trump stand on the Arab-Israeli conflict?
As with so much else, the only consistent feature of
Trump's remarks is their off-the-cuff and contradictory nature. Trump's foreign
policy thinking might be truly as shambolic as the sentences in which it is
expressed. Alternatively, there might indeed be method behind the madness. Yet
whether or not one is charitable towards the controversial tycoon, all
indications suggest that a Trump presidency would recklessly jeopardize the
stalwart alliance between the United States and Israel, and thereby endanger the
security of the Middle East's sole democracy.
On the one hand, Trump's comments appear virtually
impossible to interpret into coherency. At his AIPAC speech, Trump announced
that he would dismantle the Iran Deal, then five minutes later declared that he
would enforce it. Sometimes he expresses a certain indifference to the Jewish
state: similarly to Bernie
Sanders, Trump has announced a policy
of neutrality between Israelis and Palestinians, adding
that he "want[s] to go in with a clean slate" in lieu of pledging to
defend the security needs of the US's most dependable regional ally.
Disturbingly, Trump has stated that "a certain amount of surprise,
unpredictability" would be key to his negotiating strategy, announcing a
game plan involving yet more chaos into an increasingly chaotic Middle East.
At other times, Trump has blamed Israel for the enduring
"I don't know that Israel has the commitment" to make peace, and
effectively exonerating the Palestinian side when he said
that peace depends on "whether or not Israel," rather than the
rejectionist Palestinian leadership and jihadi forces, "wants to make the
deal ... they may not be."
To be sure, Trump has made pro-Israel noises — and very
loud ones this week at AIPAC's policy conference. "My daughter is married
to a Jew who is an enthusiastic Israel supporter," Trump has said, which is
about as compelling proof of pro-Israel affinities as "my best friend's a
Mexican." With customary braggadocio, Trump has asserted
that "the only one that's going to give Israel the kind of support it needs
is Donald Trump." But there is little in his other utterances to commend
this sweeping pledge. Just before ascending the AIPAC stage, Trump astonishingly
hinted that he expected
Israel to repay American military aid.
As an analysis of Trump's recent speeches has shown, he
commits a "misstatement"
every five minutes. How can a man so inclined to mistruths be trusted with the
delicate business of diplomacy and global politics? And a man who has suggested
that the US should withdraw from NATO, at that.
Those inclined to buy Trump's protestations that he is
"currently [Israel's] biggest friend" will struggle to rationalize his
ersatz record of public statements. Trump is a man of principles, to the extent
that those principles are expediency and opportunism. On the campaign trail, he
has demonstrated a remarkable ability to say or do whatever will maximize votes,
then shamelessly flip-flop if need be. It is exceedingly difficult to decipher
any discernible commitment from Trump to values or causes of any kind, other
than his own brand. A President Trump would likely play just as recklessly with
America's regional alliances as President Obama, further endangering the growing
threats to the liberal world order America has fought so tirelessly to sustain
just when it most needs rehabilitating.
So much for Trump's seemingly anarchic record of public
statements. Yet the real danger may lie in a method, the outlines of which one
can begin to detect behind the madness.
Given the historic temptation for U.S. presidents to
attempt to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict and Trump's self-perception as a
master dealmaker, it appears that Trump is convinced that he can engineer a
brilliant diplomatic breakthrough. Indeed, at AIPAC he was at pains to stress
his authorship of a book on negotiations. But The Art of the Deal is a shoddy
grounds for geopolitical chess-playing. His statements betray no understanding
of the nuances of the fragile geopolitics, and every indication that he
impatiently and impetuously believes that all that peace requires is that an
American president rely on his business acumen to force a deal.
But as Senator Marco Rubio put it, the Arab-Israeli
conflict is "not a real estate deal." It is replete with complexities
that demand perseverance, trust-building and ingenuity — in short, traits that
are difficult to imagine in a presidential candidate who had yet to appoint a
foreign policy team until a few days before his March 21 AIPAC appearance.
An impatient rush to achieve a final-status agreement
without any attention to the underlying, historical and structural reasons
underlying the impasse would likely explode spectacularly in Israel's face and
risk further conflagration. Israel understands that repeating this "peace
summit" strategy will not work without attending to the underlying causes
of rejectionism and instability on the Palestinian side, and will resist the
imposition of tried-and-failed methods. The collision between Israel's sober
realism and Trump's grandiose confidence in his own abilities is a recipe for
unnecessary friction between Jerusalem and Washington.
All of the other Republican candidates – and even Hillary
Clinton to some extent – believe that the next president must reaffirm and
repair the U.S.-Israel relationship. They recognize that Israelis are most
willing to make sacrifices in pursuit of peace when they are most secure, while
Israel's enemies are least willing to compromise when they see daylight between
Washington and Jerusalem. Trump's apathy towards Israel, or else his hubristic
belief in his own negotiating powers as a panacea, risks further damage to this
irreplaceable transnational alliance.
The writing is on the wall. It is not too late for
Republicans to heed it.