Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel is set to be one of the first foreign leaders to meet with the new Trump administration. However, this will not be the first time Netanyahu has met with U.S. President Donald Trump. In September of last year, he made a trip to New York to visit the then President-Elect. Following that meeting, Netanyahu thanked Mr. Trump for his support of Israel and friendship. The far-right leadership in Jerusalem seems pleased with the outcome of the U.S. election and welcomes it as a turning point in bilateral relations. It is speculated that the pair will meet as early as the first week of February to continue their conversation on pressing issues including the Iran nuclear deal and the conflict with Palestine. The main topics of discussion are unknown, but the meeting will certainly have a different tone than talks from recent years. It is important to note the shifting nature of the alliance and be aware of its implications in the coming years. It is time for the U.S. alliance with Israel to be rejuvenated, but not at the price of the state’s neighbors.
The Obama administration seemingly altered its stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict over the course of its two terms. In 2011, Obama announced that the U.S. would veto a Palestinian statehood application to the UN. Earlier that year, his administration also vetoed a UN resolution stating that Israeli settlements in the West Bank were illegal. Although, at this time, the status quo of U.S.-Israel relations appeared to be sustained, they would soon become strained. In the following years, Obama and Netanyahu refused meetings with one another on different occasions due to tensions over aid packages and the Iran deal. Then, in the final moments of the Obama administration, both Israel and the U.S. made their concluding statements. Obama showed solidarity with the Palestine Authority by sending it $221 million. In Jerusalem, the government approved hundreds of new settlements as a reaction to America’s transition of power. However, with the recent state of relations, these actions over the last couple of months should be no surprise.
Based on the existing state of affairs in Israel and past conversations the leaders have had, we can expect several topics to be addressed at Trump and Netanyahu’s February meeting. Perhaps the most debatable subject is the proposal to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Trump has expressed his support for this idea, but whether or not he will follow through on this campaign promise is questionable. A move as drastic as this would be terribly detrimental to American interests in the region and would only strain the already troubled Israel-Palestine conflict. There are far more pressing issues to address first before moving the location of a U.S. embassy. In addition, this decision would not only cost more money, but also potentially put the safety of American employees at risk.
Although it may not be at the top of their list, Trump and Netanyahu should also confer on their role in the UN and recognize that both their respective states have a lot to gain from participation within the organization. I do not anticipate the American Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2017 successfully passing through both the House and Senate, mainly due to the number of pro-Israel representatives that would need to approve it. Giving up America’s role in the UN would be to abandon Israel and leave 191 other countries to make deals without U.S. input. I doubt the Trump administration would support that.
Furthermore, there are particular topics that will surely be addressed, such as matters of business, security, and U.S. protection of Israel. Trump and Netanyahu will likely resume their conversation on Israel’s biotech economy and its cyber-defense advances. On the Iran nuclear deal and the conflict with Palestine, Trump expresses opposite views from Obama. Interestingly, Trump has been open to the idea of renegotiating the nuclear deal and not necessarily ending it completely. Since he will clearly not let it be, it would be best re-negotiated rather than totally dissolved. However, it seems Rouhani has ruled out this option. The issue with Palestine is also incredibly pressing and demands more immediate attention since Israel has fueled this fire in recent weeks by moving forward with the construction of new settlements.
Trump’s cabinet would be wise to advise him to proceed with caution. Netanyahu has expressed that he is open to new ideas, which the U.S. could help to foster. The U.S. benefits when there is peace in Israel and in Palestine. Washington must work to engage both, but, ultimately, the conflict must be negotiated and resolved by Israelis and Palestinians. A summit was held in Paris earlier this month as an attempt to kick-start peace talks between Israel and Palestine, but neither side participated. Consequently, the meeting was inefficient and made no apparent steps toward negotiation. This issue has deep historical roots, so progress can only be made when those who possess the roots are involved. Throughout the Trump term, U.S.-Israel relations will become stronger and produce a plethora of change. However, Trump and Netanyahu must remember to listen to the voices of those with differing perspectives for necessary insight into the extremely sensitive issues they face.
Lauren Greenwood is the Executive Editor for the Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations. She is a second year graduate student at Seton Hall University’s School of Diplomacy and International Relations. She is specializing in Foreign Policy Analysis and Global Negotiation and Conflict Management.
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