Trigger warning: Donald Trump is mentioned in the following post. I ask that those of you who hate or love him to refrain from sending me angry emails accusing me of loving or hating him. I don’t. Unlike the Nobel Prize Committee, I prefer to wait for a president to be in office for at least a year before deciding.
During the Obama era, my advice to Israel regarding her relationship to the US was simple:
Reduce dependence on the US in every area; for military aid, intelligence cooperation, diplomatic defense, and facilitation of negotiations with the Palestinians.
Obama’s staff was overwhelmingly anti-Israel, and the president himself – his background, associations, ideology and temperament – was hostile to Israel. There has never been a president less friendly to Israel than Barack Hussein Obama, something that was proven to us over and over, from the Iran deal to the withdrawal of support for Israel at the UN Security Council last December.
With the election of Donald Trump, some suggested that now everything would change. And much has. Trump has some very pro-Israel advisors, notably Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley. He himself is overwhelmingly pragmatic rather than ideological. He made early commitments to pro-Israel policies, such as moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, maintaining Israel’s “qualitative military edge,” and “dismantling” (later changed to “strictly enforcing”) the Iran nuclear deal.
But my advice remains the same.
The first reason is that despite the very positive changes, some things remain the same. For every Friedman or Haley, there is someone like Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who maintains that the capital of Israel is Tel Aviv, or National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster who refuses to say whether the Western Wall is part of Israel. And the State Department, unsurprisingly, is still the State Department, refusing to admit that any part of Jerusalem belongs to Israel.
Trump himself has flip-flopped on some of these issues. There have been several conflicting reports on whether he will sign the waiver that will keep the embassy in Tel Aviv. The most recent announcement attributed to a “senior administration official” is that he will not allow the embassy to move, but until the June 1 deadline, anything can happen.
Trump seems to view American interests – particularly where Iran is concerned – as closer to those of Israel than Obama did. But the “golden handcuffs” are still handcuffs.
The second reason is that Trump is apparently in the grip of a traditional delusion of American presidents – the idea that he can and should try to “solve” the Israeli-Arab conflict. This is exacerbated by his view of himself as the world’s greatest dealmaker.
Trump has given no indication that he understands the nature of the conflict, that the intractability of it is a consequence of the contradiction between the Arab narrative and the existence of a Jewish state of any size between the river and the sea. The fact that he continually refers to a “deal” that he wishes to mediate illustrates this. A “deal” is an agreement in which both sides can find an advantage. In real estate, almost everything can be measured in dollars. But this conflict can’t be ended by a deal.
“Palestinian honor” requires an acknowledgement that every inch of the land belongs to them, and insists that several million “refugees” (who are in fact not refugees) have a right to “return” to the places some of their ancestors may have lived (for as little as two years) before 1948. Loss of honor can’t be compensated for with dollars, especially when several generations have been raised on precisely this “Palestinist” ideology.
The religion of Islam also plays a role. As long as there is Jewish sovereignty over what is seen as Muslim land, there will be an obligation for Muslims to pursue jihad to re-impose Islamic domination and Islamic law over it. Not all Muslim Arabs are prepared to engage in violent jihad, but many are. 69 years during which “refugees” in UN-supported camps have been paid to have children with no possibility of a permanent home and few opportunities for careers have ensured that there will be plenty of soldiers for the jihad.
The Palestinians have shown, over and over, that they are prepared to kill and die for their perceived honor and their religion. The combination of the ideology of Palestinism with the religion of Islam and the honor-shame Arab culture has closed the door to a negotiated compromise solution.
Although some Israelis feel a religious imperative to hold on to Judea and Samaria, they are in the minority. Almost all, however, understand that an influx of Arab “refugees” or the re-establishment of indefensible borders will be the end of their state, and probably the lives of many of them. And none of them trusts the PLO or Hamas to live up to any agreement that they may sign.
There aren’t technical solutions for the contradiction between Palestinian desires and the survival of a Jewish state. There is no deal here. And yet, Trump insists that there is, opening the way for the Palestinian extortion that has characterized the phony “peace process” to continue. There is no benefit for Israel that can come out of Trump’s dealmaking. We can only try to control the damage.
The third and final reason that Israel should distance herself from the US is painful for me to discuss, as someone who grew up in America and who believes that in many ways she is still the greatest nation in history.
I think the third reason can be summed up by a simple analogy: don’t go out on a date with an 800-pound gorilla who has recently started hearing voices in his head. And if you have to go, make sure to bring cab fare for a ride home.
No, I don’t mean Trump. The gorilla is the USA. I am talking about – there’s no other word for it – the madness that has recently gripped the political and cultural life of the United States.
I don’t know where to start, but here are some examples off the top of my head: the political polarization and official gridlock; the failure of public education system in many places; the high cost, poor quality and often futility of higher education; the rejection of the ideal of freedom of expression in the academic world; the contest to see who can be the most extreme in matters of sexual preference, race and gender; the prevalence of conspiracy theories on both the Right and the Left; the failure of the healthcare system; the increase in political and racial violence; the epidemics of meth and opiates; the sheer number of people incarcerated; and the total lack of credibility of the media on both sides of the political divide.
Trump’s own position is unsteady. Today, while the President is traveling in the Middle East, his opponents at home – who never accepted the fact of his election – are fulminating with plans to oust him in one way or in another. There is a strong odor of instability coming from Washington. Whether you love Trump or hate him, there is no doubt that the situation is dangerous.
It isn’t safe for Israel to depend on a US that very clearly has its own problems to solve, where support for Israel has become a partisan issue, and where it’s not clear what the political weather will be tomorrow.
Tell the gorilla thanks for the offer, but Israel is going to stay home and wash her hair.