The time to fill the champagne glasses will be when Israel is able to make the most of a trusted and friendly new administration to advance a peace initiative.
After the US election the question on Israeli minds is how the results are likely to impact the triangular relationship: Jerusalem, Washington and the American Jewish community. Is there good reason to pour the champagne, or not?
While it is not clear whether corks are popping in Jerusalem, it would be a safe bet that in some pro-Israel organizations in the US there is a great feeling of relief, even if the overwhelming majority of their constituents, as expected, voted for Hillary.
US Jews, in general, vote based on their concerns as American citizens, as it should be. They are not motivated primarily by Israeli interests. So why are some American-Jewish leaders toasting Trump’s victory? In the last eight years they have found themselves between the proverbial rock and hard place. Having observed Israel-US relations for 40 years, I would say that in Israeli eyes the Obama presidency probably wins the prize as being the most problematic American administration.
Trump is still an enigma and this creates unprecedented concerns. His acceptance speech was surprising in that it contained no surprises. He presented himself as a unifier, in an attempt to put to rest the anxiety he created. There is still a long way to go before we learn what his governing policies will be. Is there a guiding ideology behind them? Does he have the capability to run the complicated machinery of the United States? Will he assemble the best team possible? Will he be able to gain the trust of the free world and be recognized as its leader?
Strategically, the president-elect brings his own brand of challenges to Israel and the Jewish community. Even if the vast majority of his supporters form the base of Israel’s US friends, at the margins of his voters are individuals and groups unashamed to express their antisemitism. He needs to address this at once and in no uncertain terms.
Another aspect we need to look at is that even if we see significant Jewish presence in his circle of intimates, there are not many represented in his party as top-level politicians or other public service professionals.
When it comes to Israel, it gets even more complicated. There may be very good reasons for feeling relieved in the short term. The atmosphere of mutual distrust we witnessed between Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama is likely to disappear. Trump’s positive rhetoric seems to indicate this, as does the core group of Israel supporters that surrounds him: Mike Pence, Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, John Bolton and James Woolsey.
It may enhance Israel’s standing not only in the region but throughout the world if Trump succeeds in restoring America as a superpower. Tactically, that would bring a host of rewards, at least in the short to mid-term. Increased cooperation in fighting terrorism will be only one of them. Strategically, however, it won’t solve Israel’s real existential challenge of maintaining its Jewish character. If the Trumpian bear hug is overplayed, we could very well cease being the majority in our own state.
The time to fill the champagne glasses will be when Israel is able to make the most of a trusted and friendly new administration to advance a peace initiative that will bring quiet and stability to the neighborhood. A peace that derives from a place of strength rather than weakness. The current unrest in the Middle East is creating opportunities for new alliances with moderate actors. The Palestinians should be encouraged to join. With a strong US partner that cares about keeping Israel’s Jewish and democratic character intact, Israel just might break the impasse and set the contours of its borders. Good luck, president Trump, looking forward to a new page in our triangular relationship.