Since the 1970s, every American president has attempted to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Senior American diplomats and envoys have spent a great deal of time on this Sisyphean endeavor. For all his iconoclasm, President Trump has this goal in mind as well – but his eagerness might prove self-defeating.
Although concerns about a Trump confrontation with a nuclear North Korea are widespread, there has been little corollary discussion of crisis implications for other parts of the world. Yet there are important spillover implications to be considered, specifically with reference to the Middle East and Israel's nuclear strategy.
There is no scientifically valid way to predict US presidential irrationality. Nor is there any analytically acceptable way for an American president to foretell the nuclear outcomes of any considered policy decision. There is another, less frequently considered possibility that is just as impossible to predict: that President Trump could refuse to follow through on deterrent threats, thereby allowing assorted Russian aggressions – including those that might involve Israel.
The new US administration is far more sympathetic to Israel than was its predecessor, but we must avoid taking steps from which there is no return. The Middle East is not Washington's sole focus and Israel must preserve the bipartisan support it enjoys.
One cannot blame Israelis for their sense of euphoria following the change of government in the US, but a less simplistic view of events in the US reveals a more complex picture. It is in Israel's interest to approach the new administration with a degree of restraint.
Israel is a very pro-American country, possibly more so than any other country in the world. As in the past, Israelis followed the US presidential election with great interest, amazed that the American political system had not produced more palatable presidential candidates. After eight years of a frosty relationship with the US Commander in Chief, many Israelis cautiously welcome the advent of Donald Trump.
To fight an enemy effectively, that enemy must be clearly defined. George W. Bush spoke of a war on terror, but conducted a crusade against tyranny. Barack Obama gave lip service to the freedom agenda, but employed a "realist", non-interventionist policy on most issues, was reluctant to speak of "enemies" beyond al-Qaida and IS, and never called the enemy by name. The Trump administration is reportedly planning to scrap the conceptual framework of Obama’s "CVE" – Countering Violent Extremism – and focus more explicitly on the Islamist threat, but it remains to be seen just how he defines that threat.
Instead of fixating on an independent Palestinian state, the new US administration should look east to the Hashemite Kingdom as a stabilizing influence on Palestinian politics. President Trump has an opportunity to help Jordan prosper while furthering the interests of the US and its allies.
The US is usually thought to be biased in favor of Israel, even after its recent acceptance of UNSC Resolution 2334. But for many years, the US has been a big part of the reason why the diplomatic world accepts a false narrative of the Arab-Israeli conflict that harms Israel and makes it harder to achieve peace. Washington should move to a truth-telling strategy to dismantle the structure of false views that slander Israel and stand in the way of peace.
The “art of the deal” does not translate directly from the world of business to the world of diplomacy. Diplomatic deal-making requires mastery of four basic elements: integration of diplomacy with the credible threat of force; the rewarding of friends and the punishing of enemies (rather than the opposite); a diplomatic focus on interests rather than emotions; and a refusal to condescend to the citizens who will be affected.