Israeli officials are missing Obama earlier than expected
Analysis: Trump wants to reach a formula for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement within a year. His special envoy’s determination is making Jerusalem tremble, as no one knows how the US president will react if the Middle East deal he is concocting fails or is sabotaged.
Jason Greenblatt, Donald Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, has received a mandate from the American president to reach a formula for an agreement in the Middle East within a year.
Greenblatt arrived in Israel last month, allegedly in the capacity of a student, but its seems that he is not just a fast learner—he is already starting to tie up some loose ends. And the Middle East—from the Saudi king to the Israeli prime minister—is on tiptoes around him.
Greenblatt doesn’t have behind him a president with an ideology, whose vision and heart’s desire is to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ahead of receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. Trump has adopted the world view of the three chief security officials surrounding him: His secretary of defense, General James Mattis; his secretary of homeland security, John Kelly; and his new national security adviser, Gen. H.R. McMaster.
These three generals commanded forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and were exposed over the years to intelligence reports pointing to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the factor that is making it difficult for the American armed forces to reach the required accomplishments in these conflicts.
According to their perception, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an obstacle which must be pushed out of the way in order to advance the American administration’s security, economic and diplomatic interests in the Arab world. Ending the conflict, according to this perception, will also help the administration end the Islamic State affair as a regional and global threat.
Trump’s approach towards the settlements, Area C, moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, etc., is therefore not afflicted by romanticization, but is rather driven by a pure strategic American interest. Greenblatt’s determination, as the emissary of a president who may react unexpectedly if the Middle Eastern deal he is concocting fails, is making Jerusalem tremble.
Last Thursday’s Security Cabinet discussion, which focused on a gradual freeze of the settlements and extensive gestures in Area C—according to the American demand—was held in untypical media silence. Jerusalem is beginning to miss former US President Barack Obama earlier than expected.
Last week, during a farewell ceremony for interim National Security Adviser Yaakov Nagel, he was praised by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the person who had brought the largest defense aid package Israel had ever received. Minister Yuval Steinitz was heard commenting quietly, “It’s a good thing we finalized the deal with the previous administration.”
Israeli officials are beginning to comprehend that with all his hostility towards the Israeli policy in the territories, Obama contributed to Israel’s security more than any other American president. During his term, in addition to $3 billion in regular annual defense aid, Israel received an addition of $200 million on average for special projects. And if that were not enough, Obama arranged a fixed budget for the defense establishment in the coming decade, which would make it possible to manage the defense establishment without any budgetary anxieties.
Trump may not be as charming if Bayit Yehudi Minister Uri Ariel and Knesset Member Bezalel Smotrich sabotage his deal. When Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announces that he is very optimistic ahead of his meeting with Trump, it should ring alarm bells in the Prime Minister’s Office. Obama was a “sucker”: He set “red lines” for Israel in the territories, but didn’t exact a price from Israel when it crossed them. How will Trump act is Israel fails him in the regional negotiations? It’s hard to know. But when he doesn’t get what he wants—he punishes.
Trump didn’t hesitate to demand that his close allies—Japan, South Korea, Germany—increase their defense budgets considerably, as he is no longer willing to carry the burden of protecting their security. And these are rich countries. What reason does he have not to present the same demand to Israel, if it fails to deliver the required diplomatic flexibility?
As they sat down for the Passover Seder and sang “Dayenu,” (It will suffice) all the defense establishment heads should have asked for is: If Trump doesn’t add a penny to the defense budget—dayenu, it will suffice! If he leaves us alone and doesn’t touch the defense aid budget we received from Obama—dayenu, it will suffice!
(Translated and edited by Sandy Livak-Furmanski)