Trump’s Potential Upheaval to Israel Policy
On December 15, 2016, President-elect Donald J. Trump nominated his former bankruptcy lawyer, David Friedman, to be the U.S. ambassador to Israel. The prospective appointment reiterates for the nth time that any assumptions made about the future of U.S. foreign policy prior to November 8, 2016 must be dismissed. Indeed, the most unconventional incoming president in U.S. history has appointed a prospective diplomat to Israel who advocates for a maximalist vision of the Jewish state, specifically Israel’s annexation of the Palestinian Territories. Whether through the Palestinians’ expulsion or the de facto establishment of an apartheid state, Friedman’s support of a one-state solution and rejection of “two states for two peoples” (as also seen in the 2016 Republican platform) upends decades-long bipartisan U.S. policy and sets the stage for a renewed outbreak of violence between Israelis and Palestinians.
Moreover, Trump’s potential Israel policy could further drive a wedge between the U.S. and our European allies. Germany, Israel’s closest partner in the EU, also happens to be the EU’s largest funder of the Palestinian Authority. The Federal Republic sees a Palestinian state as both a human rights necessity for Palestinians, as well as a security necessity for Israelis. Chancellor Angela Merkel, who in 2012 affirmed that Israel’s security was Germany’s Staatsräson, views Palestinian statehood as integral to Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.
This does not seem to be the agenda of President-elect Trump, or at least of his chosen advisors. While the President-elect has espoused his desire to “make a deal” between Israelis and Palestinians, the influence of David Friedman and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, both of whom are also large funders of outpost settlements, may only exacerbate tensions between Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans. Potential attempts to legitimize the settlement movement through political theater and changes to U.S. policy, or unilateral move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, could provoke violence, cause diplomatic breaks with Arab and Gulf states, as well as extinguish any last semblance of a perception of the U.S. as an “honest broker” between parties.
Chancellor Merkel may find herself in a bind. She sees it in Germany’s interest to advocate for Israelis on the European stage and for Palestinians to the Israelis. However, the marriage of the Israeli and American Right could make this impossible and prove to be a fundamental test for the Federal Republic. How far can Germany’s “special relationship” with Israel go, if Israel no longer even maintains lip service to the two-state solution? And how much political capital is Chancellor Merkel willing to wield in her relationship with Trump to ensure a status quo that she can still politically defend? If the new administration indicates a true determination to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, it would be wise for Merkel and other European leaders to pressure the president and the advisors he listens to against it. It is up to civil society actors across the transatlantic community to ensure that they do.