ANALYSIS: CAN NETANYAHU CROSS TRUMP ON WEST BANK SETTLEMENTS?

Thursday’s announcement shows that Netanyahu has lost whatever period of honeymoon grace he might have had with the Trump administration.

BY TOVAH LAZAROFF, JPOST

Netanyahu Trump

One has to ask.

If US President Donald Trump isn’t worried about antagonizing countries like Mexico and Australia, why would he hesitate to anger Israel as well?

Trump isn’t a president who shies away from fights. On the contrary, he revels in them.

“When you hear about the tough phone calls I’m having, don’t worry about it. Just don’t worry about it. They’re tough. We have to be tough,” he said at Thursday’s National Prayer Breakfast in Washington.

Only hours later, he issued his first warning to Israel on settlement construction, first to The Jerusalem Post and then through the publication of a White House press statement.

Right-wing Israeli lawmakers and settler leaders immediately spun the statement into a positive message, consistent with their belief that Trump will support Israel’s hold on settlements in Area C of the West Bank.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely noted rightly that it could be a game changer for the White House to publicly reject one of the pillars of US President Barack Obama’s policy with regard to Israel — that settlement building is a stumbling block to peace.

However, the Trump administration’s statements also emphasized that the new president wants to broker a deal to end the conflict.

Announcements of settlement building, unilateral action, the creation of new settlements and the expansion of existing ones beyond their borders, may not be helpful to the peace process, US officials said.

The US officials were careful to note, however, that their administration was still studying the issue of settlement activity.

The statements were sandwiched between two meetings, one with King Abdullah II of Jordan at the same prayer breakfast, and one next Wednesday with Netanyahu.

For a president with a reputation of shooting from the hip, it was an unusually diplomatic and carefully crafted message, giving a nod to both leaders, without going all the way.

It also differentiated between the US president’s personal beliefs and what his diplomatic policy might need to be, noting that while Trump didn’t think settlements were a stumbling block, he did at first flush see how settlement building could be detrimental to his end goals of brokering a deal.

When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, even Trump has started to understand that subtle diplomacy matters.

Trump struck a similar tone when speaking earlier in the week with the Christian Broadcast Network about moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, an act which Palestinian and Arab leaders have warned could create chaos in the region.

“I have always liked the concept of doing it, I will tell you that,” he said. “We are doing very detailed studies on that,” Trump added as he acknowledged that it was not his typical pattern of behavior to allow his policies to be dictated by research.

“Usually I do what is right,” Trump said. “This has two sides to it. It’s not easy.”

In short, he might have to forego his personal beliefs for the larger political good of his wider diplomatic agenda.

Netanyahu heads to Washington for a February 15 meeting, in the midst of a political battle to prove he is the leader of the right-wing.

He made a point, on Thursday to travel to the West Bank settlement of Ariel, to align himself with its beloved late Mayor Ron Nachman and to speak at a memorial service for him.

“We are partners on the same path,” he said.

With the possibility of elections in the air, Netanyahu is under pressure from right-wing lawmakers to throw off the shackles of Obama’s no-tolerance settlement policy.

They have a shopping list for him. Annex Ma’aleh Adumim. Pass a law retroactively legalizing 4,000 settler homes on private Palestinian property. Eliminate the entire concept of the blocs and build everywhere.

Some urged him in particular to take steps immediately after Trump entered office, to take advantage of supportive promises made to Israel during the campaign.

Those lawmakers feared Trump, once he had sat for a time in the Oval Office, might echo former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s famous line about leading a country, “What you see from here, you do not see from there.”

Netanyahu, with the support of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, urged caution and silence, noting that the way to start a relationship is not to dictate the terms of what will ultimately be an understanding between Israel and the United States over Israeli settlement activity.

With that in mind and with a need to counter the political backlash of this week’s evacuation of the Amona outpost, Netanyahu has pushed forward on construction that mainly followed the lines of what Israel holds has been its pre-Obama understanding with the US: that it can build in the blocks. In an unusual series of announcements, Netanyahu said he planned to advance or authorize 5,500 new settler homes, mostly in the blocs.

Netanyahu is hoping that when he talks with Trump about West Bank settlements in Washington, the US president will agree to allow Israel to continue to build in the blocs.

Then, to test the waters, Netanyahu went one small step further on Wednesday and announced the creation of a new Israeli settlement, something Israel in the past has obligated itself not to do.

The negative response from Washington was swift, even if it was couched in positive terms.

It could just be a stop-sign, asking Israel to wait until Trump has formulated policy. Or it could be a foreshadowing that this president might throw Israel a few crumbs when it comes to settlements, but would otherwise stick within the larger framework of frowning on Israeli settlement activity.

Under the Obama administration, US and Israeli officials liked to say, “friends could agree to disagree.”

That is unlikely to be the line of this administration once it knows what its policy will be.

And that policy, should it go against the fanatical expectations of the right-wing, could put Netanyahu at odds with a Trump Washington that initially appears to bear no dissent.

Thursday’s announcement shows that Netanyahu has lost whatever period of honeymoon grace he might have had with the Trump administration.

Former US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro speculated that Trump must have released the statement to help Netanyahu in political battle with the Right. Just as Netanyahu’s tweet about Mexico could have been at Trump’s request.

But whether by design or not, from here on out, Netanyahu has returned to the same place he stood with Obama.

Unless Trump falls in line with Israel’s right-wing camp, Netanyahu will perpetually have to choose between his political fortunes at home and the larger diplomatic status of Israel-US relations.

After eight-years of promises for a new tomorrow, it is a tight-rope walk that will be increasingly hard for him to take.

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1 Comment / 51 Comments

  1. yamit82

    Felix Quigley Said:

    You seem to blame “Jewish Values” for the Holocaust.

    True !!! The Holocaust was a Collective Punishment for the public Sin of the Jewish leadership (both the secular and the religious), namely, their contagious Love of the Exile, which constitutes nothing less than a Rejection of the Land of Israel.

    How did “Jewish Values” give rise to Fascism, the Fascism of Hitler, Franco and Mussolini.

    You seem to have no understanding at all of history…especially of how Fascism came into being.

    You believe fascism is a recent /modern phenomena??? Maybe the name Fascism but not the concept and practice which is as old as history; which apparently you are a total ignoramus. Interesting thing about you commies, you never define your terms of reference.

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