Israel’s relations with the United States have never been closer - or more complex. Jewish advisers, evangelical pressure, estrangement from half the population, presidential narcissism, and disengagement from the international arena are all complicating factors. Experts on Israel-U.S. relations, including Dennis Ross, Dore Gold, Sallai Meridor and Shlomo Avineri, offer their take on the bond between Trump and Netanyahu, and try to answer the big question: Has Israel gained or lost from its best־ever friend in the White House? A Shomrim analysis

Israel’s relations with the United States have never been closer - or more complex. Jewish advisers, evangelical pressure, estrangement from half the population, presidential narcissism, and disengagement from the international arena are all complicating factors. Experts on Israel-U.S. relations, including Dennis Ross, Dore Gold, Sallai Meridor and Shlomo Avineri, offer their take on the bond between Trump and Netanyahu, and try to answer the big question: Has Israel gained or lost from its best־ever friend in the White House? A Shomrim analysis

The Romance of the Century?

Israel’s relations with the United States have never been closer - or more complex. Jewish advisers, evangelical pressure, estrangement from half the population, presidential narcissism, and disengagement from the international arena are all complicating factors. Experts on Israel-U.S. relations, including Dennis Ross, Dore Gold, Sallai Meridor and Shlomo Avineri, offer their take on the bond between Trump and Netanyahu, and try to answer the big question: Has Israel gained or lost from its best־ever friend in the White House? A Shomrim analysis

Renen Netzer

Trump and Netanyahu. Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian)

August 18, 2020

Summary

M

edia outlets in Israel and across the globe have been awash of late with commentary on the White House־brokered peace deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Precise details of the nature of the agreement, which has yet to be fully formulated, have been few and far between, but that hasn’t stopped pundits from expressing sharply differing views on the little we do know, and arguing about - among many other things - the impact the deal will have on the balance of power in the region, Israel’s relations with the Palestinian Authority, the role of Turkey and Iran in the weakening of Arab resistance, and other countries that might or might not jump on the bandwagon.

There appears to have been consensus on one issue only - the significance of the announcement for Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump, both of whom have seen their approval rating plummet as a result, amongst other things, of their handling of the Coronavirus crisis. The agreement, it seems, won’t merely benefit the two, but will also resolve the conundrum surrounding the annexation of the Jordan Valley, an annexation, just to remind you, that was born out of the so־called ‘Deal of the Century’ that Trump announced just this past January - a few weeks before the third of Israel’s recent spate of elections.

Is the current move more proof, therefore, of the prevailing belief that relations between the Israeli prime minister and the president of the United States never been closer and that, as a result, Israel has never before held such sway over the White House? Apparently, like reality itself, the answers to this question is a lot more complex.

Dore Gold, a former senior adviser to Netanyahu. Photo: Wikipedia

Let's start with the facts: Over the past four years, Trump has showered Netanyahu with gifts that past administrations refused to give. A groundbreaking announcement recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel? Check. The relocation of the U.S. embassy to the "eternal capital of the Jewish people?" Check. Recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights? Check. Annulment of the nuclear deal with Iran? Check.

We can also add to this list the fact that Israel was the only country in the world, according to media reports, that was party to the plan to assassinate Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in early January. Another interesting item is Trump’s decision in 2018 to reduce U.S. aid to the Palestinians by hundreds of millions of dollars. Various sources claimed at the time that Israel had pushed for the decision but requested, following Trump’s announcement, that the process be halted, fearing the consequences it could have on security arrangements with the Palestinian Authority.

It’s hard, with the above in mind, to argue with the theory of bosom buddies and major sway. Through a series of interviews with experts, Shomrim offers an analysis of the reasons behind the very warm relations between Jerusalem and Washington, and more importantly, we try to answer the biggest question of all: Is Israel better or worse off as a result?

Ex Parte Peace: The ‘Deal of the Century’ and Trump’s Jewish advisers

"The plan was coordinated only with the Israelis. It was not coordinated with anyone else." (Dennis Ross)

The extent of Israel’s influence is plain to see in the so־called ‘Deal of the Century,’ Trump’s peace plan that was published at the end of January this year, a few weeks ahead of the Israeli elections, and just before the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic.

According to former Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor, who currently serves as the head of the Jewish Agency’s International Relations Unit, the fingerprints of Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, and Dore Gold, a former senior adviser to Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon who also served as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, are clearly all over the plan. Dermer, he adds, worked alongside Trump’s son־in־law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, on formulating the plan. "The Israeli prime minister’s influence over the U.S. president is at its peak," Palmor says. "Trump gave Netanyahu absolute carte blanche. It’s as if he said to him and Israel: ‘Do whatever you deem fit; I’ve got your back’."

Gold himself confirms that he was involved in putting the plan together, and he agrees with the notion that Israel has a great deal of sway over the White House. On the other hand - perhaps because he’s one of those described as pulling the strings - he shies away from the use of the word ‘influence.’

"You can’t say that Israel dictates policy to the Americans. It doesn’t work like that," he stresses. In the same breath, however, Gold, who served in very senior positions for Israel while the White House was occupied by Presidents Clinton, Bush, Obama and now Trump, does admit that Israel is the beneficiary of an unprecedentedly warm reception in Washington. "Never before have we encountered such empathy for our claims," he says.

Israel’s influence over the ‘Deal of the Century’ is evident to Dennis Ross, too. "Look at the map," he says. "The plan was coordinated only with the Israelis. It was not coordinated with anyone else. None of the Sunni Arab leaders had the map or the content of the plan shown to them, whereas all of the details were shared with the Israelis."

Dennis Ross, meanwhile, is probably the man most associated with American efforts to bring peace to the Middle East over the last four decades. Ross, 71, served in four administrations - two Republican and two Democrat - and is viewed as someone who epitomized America’s traditional line on Israel and bipartisan support for the Jewish state, which has undergone a dramatic shake־up during the Trump era.

Israel’s influence over the ‘Deal of the Century’ is evident to Ross, too. "Look at the map," he says. "The plan was coordinated only with the Israelis. It was not coordinated with anyone else. None of the Sunni Arab leaders had the map or the content of the plan shown to them, whereas all of the details were shared with the Israelis."

According to Ross, the deal includes two elements that are evidence of Netanyahu’s "extraordinary" influence. "One," he says, "is the absorbing of all the 130 settlements in Israel, including 15 that were supposed to be within the Palestinian state and another 63 that are outside of the so־called settlements bloc. Every plan up until now was premised on the idea that the settlements bloc would be absorbed, meaning roughly 52 settlements, but not the other 78. That I think is very much a function of the Israeli prime minister’s influence, and the same applies to the annexation of the Jordan Valley.

Dennis Ross. served in four administrations - two Republican and two Democrat. Photo: Washington Institute

"There were certainly past administrations who understood the significance of the Jordan Valley for Israel’s security, but you could meet that need by having a 100־year lease for Israel. That would meet Israel’s practical needs while meeting, at the same time, the Palestinians’ political and symbolic needs, since they would retain sovereignty. The Trump plan takes into consideration the interests of just one side."

Ruth Eglash, The Washington Post’s Israel correspondent, says that she was "astonished" when she saw Trump’s plan. "I’ve been in my current position for seven years now, and I clearly remember the way things used to be," Eglash says. "The change is beyond words. I particularly remember the UN Security Council resolution from 2016, which harshly condemned the settlements, and President Barack Obama’s decision not to impose a veto. The chasm between that decision and the inclusion in the plan of territory annexation illustrates the magnitude of the change."

@So, where does Israel’s influence over the deal stem from?@

Ross, for his part, alludes subtly to Trump's Jewish advisers, to whom one could also add billionaire Sheldon Adelson, the Republican Party's biggest contributor (and better known in Israel as the owner of the Israel Hayom daily), and Nikki Haley, the former U.S. ambassador to the UN who came out fighting against every whiff of anti־Israel sentiment in the Security Council, the Human Rights Council and other UN bodies.

"Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt, while he was there, and certainly David Friedman have a deep attachment to Israel and that Influences President Trump," Ross says, noting that Kushner and Greenblatt, Trump’s former adviser and envoy to the Middle East, consulted with him prior to the publication of the peace deal and ignored his advice to include all parties in the formulation of the plan. "Effectively," he says, "the Trump plan is based on the idea, as David Friedman said, that Israelis do not have to worry about a Palestinian state until the Palestinians become Canada."

God commands the preservation of Israel

"Netanyahu’s people believe that with Trump tightly wrapped in a Jewish and evangelical environment, the AIPAC lobby has become surplus to needs." (Yigal Palmor)

Yaki Dayan, who served both as a political adviser at the Israeli Embassy in Washington and as Israel’s consul־general in Los Angeles during the Bush and Obama eras, says the relationship between the two countries has never been closer. "We’re talking about an intimate relationship with absolute affinity," he says.

From 2012 to 2016, Dayan served as head of the Israel Christian Nexus, a nonprofit focused on harnessing support for Israel from evangelical churches. And in 2016, he helped an evangelical media network set up a radio station in Israel that broadcasts to the Arab world, the Voice of Hope, which offers support to persecuted Christian communities and tries to bring them closer to the church. The station now has its sights on airing its message to Iranian listeners.

Evangelicals, an estimated 70 to 80 million people in the United States, are Trump’s power base, and as a significant force now in the Republican Party, they’ve even referred to as ‘president makers’ in internal party discourse. Despite the seemingly impossible connection between the values ​​of the evangelical churches and those of President Trump, they’ve formed a close alliance that serves Israel and boosts Jerusalem’s ability to influence the administration. Two of the president's closest associates, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, both of whom are considered potential Trump successors in the future, are evangelicals themselves. Thus, the evangelicals have Trump’s ear on issues that are important to them, such as abortion or the reopening of places of worship during the Coronavirus pandemic. The agenda that seeks to help Israel along the path towards fulfilling the prophecy of the End of Days and the return of Jesus Christ is also high on "the list of God’s commandments."

Dayan notes that the evangelicals are very organized and active, and donate generously to the Republican Party. "They live in some of the most electorally important states for Trump, and they’re flocking to the polls en masse," he says,

"Contrary to popular belief," he adds, "the evangelical community is not homogeneous. More and more Latinos are joining evangelical churches, and they may have the power to influence others, who support the Democrats, and prompt their defection to the Republican Party."

Evangelical Conference In Jerusalem. Photo: Lior Mizrachi

In the face of the growing evangelical influence, we’ve also seen a decline in the power of AIPAC, the veteran pro־Israel lobby. "Netanyahu’s people believe that with Trump tightly wrapped in a Jewish and evangelical environment, the AIPAC lobby has become surplus to needs," says Yigal Palmor. "When it comes to various Jewish events at the White House, Trump chooses to invite the evangelicals and Chabad - with no trace of AIPAC in sight."

Shmuel Rosner, a senior fellow at The Jewish People Policy Institute and an expert on the United States, points to another sphere of influence. "In recent years," he says, "the Republican Party has seen the creation of a merger of sorts between two groups whose power has peaked - the evangelicals and the neoconservatives, like Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton, Lindsey Graham and others who are responsible for strengthening Washington’s ties with Israel. As far as the neoconservative־evangelical alliance is concerned, the enemies of the United States are the enemies of Israel, and vice versa."

Agenda or personality?

"To describe Israel as the tail wagging the dog is a mistake. Trump is driven by narcissism, not by Bibi." (Shmuel Rosner)

Is there any point at all examining the Netanyahu־Trump alliance in terms of influence, given that they share a common ideology?

"On the issue of Iran - at least regarding the issue of exerting maximum economic pressure - and on the Palestinian issue, Israel has greater influence than it had before, but it’s hard to measure it," says Ross. "Because if this is what the administration believes in anyway, is it really Israeli influence that is producing it, or are the Israelis simply validating what the administration believes in already? I think that on Iran, you have an administration that didn’t need to be persuaded to pressure the Iranians. On the Palestinians, you have an administration that is fundamentally sympathetic to the Israeli position, and there, I think, Israel did have an effect."

Gold also stresses the importance of the shared agenda and illustrates how it’s shaping the reality on the ground. "Trump and his administration are very sensitive to the issue of terrorism," he says. "When Abu Mazen [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] announced compensation payments for the families of terrorists killed or arrested while carrying out attacks, it became a huge issue in the United States. It appears to have influenced the U.S. position that reaching an agreement is impossible, and has led to a situation in which the administration is negotiating with one party only - Israel."

In the face of the growing evangelical influence, we’ve also seen a decline in the power of AIPAC, the veteran pro־Israel lobby. "Netanyahu’s people believe that with Trump tightly wrapped in a Jewish and evangelical environment, the AIPAC lobby has become surplus to needs," says Yigal Palmor. "When it comes to various Jewish events at the White House, Trump chooses to invite the evangelicals and Chabad - with no trace of AIPAC in sight."

Gold, whose doctoral dissertation focused on Saudi Arabia and served as the basis for his book, ‘Hatred's Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global Terror,’ points to the changes that have occurred in Saudi Arabia and the close ties between Washington and Riyadh as another common interest. "Gone are the days when Saudi Arabia conditioned its relations with the United States on a demand to crush Israel," Gold says.

David Friedman, The United States Ambassador to Israel. Photo: USA Embassy

Aside from similar agendas on Iran, the Palestinian issue and the fight against terrorism, Netanyahu and Trump also share a loathing for Obama, who they believe was a failure in the Middle East. "I remember the last round of talks conducted by Obama’s secretary of state, John Kerry," Gold recounts. "He presented the Obama initiative to Abu Mazen and asked him to indicate the clauses about which he had reservations. Abu Mazen’s response was: ‘I’ll get back to you.’ This shows that Obama failed with the Palestinians, even when he tried to promote such a watery plan."

While Gold talks about "the lessons learned from Obama’s failures," other interviewees don’t hold back and point to what they view as a vengeful desire on the part of both leaders to erase Obama’s accomplishments. Such is the opinion of Nadav Tamir, director of international affairs at the Peres Center for Peace and former Israeli consul־general in Boston during the Bush and Obama eras. "Had it not been for Obama and the agreement he formulated with Tehran, Trump may have adopted the exact same attitude towards the Iranians as he has towards the North Koreans," Tamir says. "A loathing for Obama, to a large degree, is the thing that’s driving Mr. America First - his attitude towards Iran, the U.S. withdrawal from the Trans־Pacific Partnership, and various other arenas too."

Tamir believes that the strong bond between Netanyahu and Trump is also a function of their personalities - of Trump’s narcissism and Netanyahu's ability to harness it for Israel's benefit.

Rosner also places a lot of weight on the personality component, but notes that this leads him to a conclusion that negates the unprecedented־influence theory. "To describe Israel as the tail wagging the dog is a mistake. Trump is driven by narcissism, not by Bibi," he says. "Trump influences Trump. Unlike his predecessors, he doesn’t rely on the professional echelon of his administration - not the Pentagon and not the State Department. He moved the embassy to Jerusalem because he promised to do so. Bush, before him, promised to do so too, but the advice of his professional staff spooked him. Trump doesn’t heed the advice of his officials on any subject at all - not about the coronavirus crisis, not about trade, and not about Israeli either."

Leon Hadar, an expert on U.S. affairs, sums it up succinctly: "Trump is an American nationalist and narcissist who will throw anyone who undermines his policies, or denies him personal achievements, to the dogs. And that includes his bosom buddy, Benjamin Netanyahu."

Us or them: How does the Netanyahu־Trump axis affect Israel’s world standing?

"Netanyahu and Trump share a common agenda that rests on power, hostility towards the Muslim world and the European Union, the rejection of agreements, and disengagement from international institutions and organizations." (Shlomo Avineri)

How does the alliance between Trump and Netanyahu affect Israel's position in the international arena?

Prof. Shlomo Avineri, a political scientist who served as director־general of the Foreign Ministry during the tenures of Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, believes that the world is of no interest to Trump or Netanyahu. They aren’t concerned, too, with the fact that paradoxically, both are weakening their respective country’s status in the international community; the United States is no longer seen as a beacon of liberty, and Israel is no longer viewed as the sole stronghold of civil rights in the Middle East.

"Netanyahu and Trump live in a dichotomous world," Avineri says. "In their view, one side (their side) is one hundred percent right, while the other side (their opponents) is totally wrong. Both seek division, and both will radicalize it. Leaders who strive to reach agreements will always look for the common denominator. But these two share a common agenda that rests on power, hostility towards the Muslim world and the European Union, the rejection of agreements, and disengagement from international institutions and organizations. Hostility towards the EU, for example, is shared by both, as is their sympathy for governments that buck the trend, like Poland and Hungary. They also have certain sympathy for authoritarian regimes - from Brazil to The Philippines - and both feel comfortable with Russian President Vladimir Putin."

Tamir agrees with Avineri’s analysis about both countries’ weakened position in the international arena, but points to another bond that’s taking shape: Trump’s strong backing for Netanyahu has led to Israel’s rapprochement with the Gulf States (the interview with Tamir took place before the announcement of the agreement with the UAE) and has made inroads, too, with Putin, who has granted Israel at least partial freedom of action in Syria. Putin is also the one who’s allowing Netanyahu to hook up with the so־called populist alliance in Eastern Europe, as part of Russia’s policy of divide and rule on the continent. "Netanyahu has become a waystation," Tamir says. "He’s perceived as having been promoted to a different league, so Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the Gulf States and other countries in Africa and Latin America want good ties with someone who enjoys close ties to the White House."

In this context, we should also mention that, emulating the United States, Guatemala has also moved its embassy to Jerusalem; Australia has opened a trade and security bureau in the capital; Brazil, Honduras, and Hungary have established chambers of commerce there; and the Czech Republic and Slovakia have opened cultural centers in the city. Furthermore, diplomatic relations with Chad, a Muslim country, were renewed after 47 years, and there’s been a significant warming of relations with hostile Sudan.

This list of international achievements fails to impress Ross. Like Avineri, he also believes that Trump’s contrarian policies and hostility towards multinational organizations are actually detrimental to Israeli interests. "If Netanyahu has problems in Europe, he’s not going to get help from here to solve them," he says. "The Trump administration has very little influence on others. He has very little soft power. Others are not drawn to be supportive of American positions. Soft power means that we attract others so that they are drawn to us and drawn to follow our policies and embrace our objectives, but this is an administration with little advantage of soft power.

Ethan Bronner, a senior editor at Bloomberg News and Jerusalem bureau chief  forThe New York Times (2008-2012), says that "the Netanyahu-Trump alliance is a thorn in the flesh of liberal American Jews, who make up the vast majority of American Jews.”

"When I was in different administrations, I used to get calls all the time from the Israelis to help them with the Europeans. I couldn’t always succeed, but I was part of administrations that basically had the ability maybe not always to change the EU’s positions, but to temper them. That doesn’t exist with this administration. It can’t even get the Europeans to follow its positions on the Iranians."

Just last week, the UN Security Council rejected the U.S. request to extend the arms embargo on Iran. Britain, France and Germany, which were partners in the nuclear deal with Iran, chose to abstain from voting.

From a historical perspective, with the United States as its closest ally, Israel’s interest has always been for Washington to lead the world, Ross says. "But Trump’s instincts are to be less engaged in the rest of the world," he adds. "He is not an internationalist. It doesn’t mean that he won’t engage internationally, but it means that he wants to engage exclusively on his terms.

"You had that COVID-19 conference with leaders throughout the world making pledges on common contributions to vaccines. Prime Minister Netanyahu took part and pledged $60 million. President Trump wasn’t part of it. He spent his time on a speech going after the Chinese. Every preceding American administration - Republican or Democrat - in the face of a pandemic like this, you would have seen a very quick move to try to organize and mobilize a common international response. That’s not the mindset of the current president. It is always in Israel’s interest to see the U.S. leading and organizing international responses because the U.S. is fundamentally Israel’s friend.

"Does Israel have any influence on what it wants to do with China in this administration?" Ross continues. "The answer is no. Did Israel have any influence on this administration to increase its military and financial support needed for its operations in Syria against what Iranians are doing over there? It doesn’t appear to have had either, because the money that Israel is getting is simply the Obama money.

"Even though you have two things that have happened - that the money that was programmed into the Obama money - the MOU - for dealing with threats to Israel didn’t program in that Israel will have to carry out all these operations - high־cost operations - against the Iranians and the Shia militias within Syria. The number of operations using expensive munitions are much greater than were programmed into the MOU in 2016.

"So, if you’re asking me if Israel has influence on the American administration at least on exerting maximum economic pressure on Iran - the answer is yes. Does Israel’s prime minister have influence regarding its approach on the Palestinian issue? The answer is yes. But on China, I don’t see it; on meeting Israel’s defense needs, I don’t see it. In general, the American administration is very friendly. It is very open on sharing American intelligence but I don’t think that that’s more than we’ve seen before, so my answer is that it’s a mixed bag. Those who think that Israel has unprecedented influence would imply that it has influence on every issue, but it has influence only on some issues."

The domestic arena: Israel is losing half of America

"The Netanyahu government has crossed red lines that no government before has dared to cross." (Sallai Meridor)

The close relationship between Netanyahu and Trump is evident, too, in the American domestic arena, and once again, it’s hard to pinpoint where the shared agenda begins and at what point it becomes a reality shaped by personality. In this context, it may be worth mentioning another point of similarity between the two: They both represent half of their people; the other half of the population is longing for their downfall.

Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer. Photo: Wikipedia

Politically, America is more polarized today than ever before, following the Democrats shift to the left and the Republicans to the right. Recently published polls, for example, show that half of Americans would oppose their offspring marrying a supporter of the rival party. From Trump’s perspective, this polarization is a tool for strengthening his base, and his bond with Netanyahu is incorporated into that. Netanyahu, for his part, has forgone the bipartisan support that all Israeli leaders before him have meticulously preserved and has chosen to put all his eggs in the Republican basket.

Sallai Meridor, Israel's ambassador to the United States during the Bush and Obama eras, argues that Netanyahu's policies are causing the loss of one of Israel's strategic assets, with Jerusalem now seen as an exclusive ally of Trump that is distancing itself from his opponents - namely, half of America. "The Netanyahu government," Meridor says, "has crossed red lines that no government before has dared to cross. Take, for example, Netanyahu's statement of support for the wall on the Mexican border. This is an issue that lies at the heart of the dispute in the United States. Responsible Israeli policy would have avoided such public intervention.

"I was serving as ambassador when Obama ran against McCain for the presidency. The election campaign back then was focused on healthcare reform. Israel has a wonderful story to tell in this context. I could have reminded the Americans that they have something to learn from us. I didn’t do so because the issue - like that of the wall on the Mexican border - was at the heart of the confrontation between the two sides. And the same goes for Bush’s most significant strategic move - the war in Iraq. In the 2007-2008 election campaign, both sides asked Israel to voice its opinion on the question of whether to remain in Iraq or to withdraw. I made every effort to stay far away from that landmine.

"Due to the current policy, we may pay a heavy price in the long run. Yes, the bond between Trump and Netanyahu has created a situation in which policies hostile towards Israel are non־starters in international organizations. This is important, but we must remember that for half of Israel’s years of independence, Republican presidents have served in the White House, with Democrat presidents serving during the other half. There’s no reason why this shouldn’t be the case for the next 70 years. Israel cannot afford to become a single־season player, a summer or winter player only."

Trump’s son־in־law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner. Photo: USA Embassy

Commenting on the issue of polarization in American society, Ethan Bronner, a senior editor at Bloomberg News and Jerusalem bureau chief  forThe New York Times (2008-2012), says that "the Netanyahu-Trump alliance is a thorn in the flesh of liberal American Jews, who make up the vast majority of American Jews.”

He adds, however, that we should also take note two developing phenomena – “the penetration of Israelis and Israeli culture in the United States and the likelihood that the American Jewish community will become less liberal and more religious and conservative, reflecting what's happening in Israel.”

According to Bronner, “The first phenomenon  can be seen in the fields of technology, science, film and television, medicine and more. Evidence of this is illustrated by the fact that an Israeli professor, Tal Zaks, is chief medical officer for U.S. biotechnology firm Moderna, which recently announced progress in its trials of a Coronavirus vaccine. The penetration of Israeli culture is creating a presence and partnership that’s leaving the Palestinians behind.”

The second issue, Bronner believes, will be felt within a generation or two. The children and grandchildren of American Jews will intermarry and largely assimilate, he says. “Then we’ll see a lot more Jews here in the style of Jared Kushner. The power of liberal Jews will wane, while that of the Orthodox will increase. Just like the evangelicals, they are opposed to secularization and are very pro-Israel – creating matching interests that are leading to the establishment of an interesting alliance."

The friendliest president?

"Rabin had much sway over Clinton, Bush admired Sharon, and with Olmert, it was even more." (Dennis Ross)

"You are the friendliest president to Israel ever," Netanyahu said to Trump when the details of the ‘Deal of the Century’ were unveiled in January. But to accept Netanyahu's unequivocal pronouncement would mean ignoring history and the actions of presidents like Harry Truman, who was the first to recognize Israel de jure and thereby pave the way for recognition by the rest of the world, and Lyndon Johnson, who decided to make Israel a strategic partner and provided the country with weapons in the Six־Day War, while De Gaulle imposed a potentially catastrophic arms embargo. One would also have to forget Richard Nixon’s airlift that saved an ill־prepared Israel in the Yom Kippur War and helped it score a decisive victory from a position of clear inferiority.

Presidents from the more recent past, who didn’t make such strategic and fateful decisions for Israel's security, are also entitled to see themselves slighted by Netanyahu's emphatic statement, at least according to Ross, who served four of them. Ross was the chief mediator in the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians and Syrians from the late 1990s onwards. He served as America’s Special Envoy to the Middle East on behalf of the Clinton administration; he orchestrated the Wye Summit in 1998 that was attended by Clinton, Netanyahu, and Arafat; he organized the Camp David Summit in 2000 with Clinton, Barak and Arafat, as well as the Shepherdstown Summit that same year with Bill Clinton, Ehud Barak, and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk a־Shara. Trump's advisers - Kushner and Greenblatt - also sought to take advantage of Ross’ experience and consulted with him before the ‘Deal of the Century’ was announced.

Clinton with Rabin. Photo: Avi Ohayon, GPO

"I was a political appointee for four administrations," Ross says when asked to compare the Trump־Netanyahu relationship to that of previous presidents and prime ministers. "I was a political appointee for Reagan, for Bush Snr., for Clinton - I was Clinton’ negotiator in the Middle East - and for Obama. Two Republicans and two Democrats. I can say that Rabin had a lot of influence on Clinton, and Olmert had a lot of influence on Bush. Sharon had a lot of influence on Bush as well, but it was more of a function of Bush being a kind of admirer. But with Olmert, he felt almost a kind of kinship.

"Rabin was not just respected by Clinton, it was an admiration because he was the essence of the soldier־statesman, and his whole biography was for Clinton a source of admiration. He was taken with him, and with his analytical capabilities. I saw that relationship from close, since I was his negotiator."

To illustrate the connection between Bush and Olmert, Ross recounts the story of the assault on the Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007. "The best example in Olmert’s case," he says, "is when the Bush administration wasn’t prepared to act against Al Khabar, the nuclear facility that the Syrians were clearly building. The Bush administration’s approach was to go to the IAEA, while Olmert said that that would guarantee that they end up with a facility. So Olmert said: ‘We’ll act against it but I’ll ask you not to say anything,’ while the instinct of Condi Rice and Bob Gates [Secretaries of State and Defense] was exactly the opposite. They even tried to dissuade Bush from stepping aside, from giving Olmert the green light and being quiet about it. But Bush was very much influenced by Olmert.

Olmert with Bush and Condoleezza Rice. Photo: Avi Ohayon, GPO

"From everything I read, and the book I wrote called ‘Doomed to Succeed,’ in which I went into every administration’s relationship, the relationship that Bush had with Olmert was very similar to the one Clinton had with Rabin in the sense that there was a combination of a comfort level and the feeling that the worldview was very much the same. That’s a key here. Bush had the feeling that Olmert’s instincts and his instincts are very much the same. Those two had a real comfort level.

"If I were to rank the different relationships, I would probably say that Rabin had the greatest influence on Clinton. Regarding Bibi, I would say that he has had the greatest influence on an administration but that’s not because he has an extremely close־warm־personal relationship with Trump. He has a good relationship with Trump, but it does not have the same character as the relations Rabin had with Clinton or those Olmert had with Bush. The Olmert־Bush relationship was one in which they were kidding each other - a very comfortable personal relationship. Rabin was not a small־talk kind of guy, whereas Clinton could talk to anybody; but he revered Rabin.

"The Bibi־Trump relationship is built on Trump deciding that he wants to be seen as supporting Israel. When it looked like Bibi hadn’t won [the elections] and Trump was asked if he called him, he said: ‘No, our relationship is with Israel, [not with its Prime Minister]’. If Rabin hadn’t been assassinated and had lost an election to Bibi, I guarantee you that Clinton would have been on the phone with Rabin, just as he was on the phone with Peres after Peres lost. So it doesn’t strike me that Bibi and Trump have a close personal relationship that way.

"Having said that, I don’t think that Bibi has any hesitancy in calling Trump. If he feels the need in trying to persuade him about something, he will call him. But I also think that he picks and chooses his issues carefully, meaning that he’ll call him on issues he’s pretty confident that he can succeed, not on something that he’s not likely to succeed. When Trump announced that he’s going to get out of Syria - something that led Defense Secretary Mattis to resign - even though the last thing Israel wanted was to see the U.S. getting out of Syria, Bibi didn’t call him. He knew that this was a kind of instinctive Trump, and you don’t push any instincts."

The forecast for November

The commonly held view is that, if Trump emerges victorious in the general election in November, his policies regarding Israel will not change and his conduct will be more unrestrained than ever. In other words: What was will be, but even more so. It’s difficult to predict what another four years of Trump would do to Israel's international status or to other strategic international issues, but it is safe to assume that, as far as the American domestic arena is concerned, the rift between Israel and large sections of the Democratic Party and the American public would only widen.

If, on the other hand, Democrat candidate Joe Biden is elected, U.S. policy will be more balanced on both the Palestinian and Iranian fronts, and Israel's standing in international organizations will weaken. But even in such a case, one shouldn’t expect "a diplomatic tsunami" that would lead to a significant change in our region.

According to Dennis Ross, a second Trump term would lead to the completion of the U.S. withdrawal from the Middle East. "He doesn’t want to be there," Ross says. "In terms of influence, this has a meaning too. It has always been in Israel’s interest to have the U.S. in the Middle East. It reinforces the Israeli deterrent.

"With Russia filling the vacuum when the U.S. - Israel’s one true friend - doesn’t want to be there, that is not in Israel’s interest. Putin may be different than his Soviet predecessors, but Putin draws limits for the Israelis; Putin does not adopt a position that is hostile to Iran. Trump, on the other hand, doesn’t want to be in the Middle East, and in a second term, he is very likely to get out of the Middle East, and Israel will not be able to influence that. When Trump made a decision to get out of Syria, he didn’t run that by the Israelis, he didn’t talk to them about it. And here’s another area where I’d say that there’s a real limitation to Israel’s influence. You’re seeing it also regarding his desire to pull out of Sinai, as part of the MFO. Israel doesn’t appear to have any influence there either."

Biden, Ross says, has "an emotional instinct of attachment to Israel in a way that is simply different than Trump, who has no emotional attachment to any other country. His America־first is not based on having strong alliances, since alliances carry with them obligations. Biden feels a sense of obligation and emotional attachment to Israel. At the same time, Biden is prepared to be more mindful that if you want to promote peace you need to meet the needs of both sides, so I think that he would be more open in trying to address the Palestinian needs as well, whereas Trump’s plan clearly meets Israel’s needs first. Effectively the Trump plan is based on the idea - as David Friedman said - that Israelis do not have to worry about a Palestinian state until the Palestinians become Canada. The Biden administration would put a premium on Israel’s security issues, but he wouldn’t put a premium on the settlements, and especially those outside of the settlements bloc.

"I suspect that the policy towards Iran would not go back to the way it was, but I also think that it won’t be a policy that is designed in effect to apply unrelenting pressure on Iran without leaving them any real way out. There won’t be any difference in terms of not wanting Iran to have any nuclear weapon. There will be as much of a commitment to ensure that they will not have any nuclear weapon."