Foreign policy experts in Israel this week eyed Tuesday’s US presidential election, considering what any new-look White House might mean for the Jewish state.
Donald Trump is widely seen as the most pro-Israel president in US history, having cut funding and ties to the Palestinians, moved the US Embassy to Jerusalem and recognised territory taken in war as Israeli.
However, for others his lack of progress on the peace process has given him a tarnished legacy, while others see Israel’s thawing relations with Gulf states as likely to continue regardless of who is in the White House.
Polling suggests that American Jews are still more likely to vote for Democratic challenger Joe Biden than Republican, but president of the Israel Democracy Institute Yohanan Plesner said: “Israel is neither a blue state nor a red state.”
On voting preferences, he said: “While Israelis genuinely appreciate the values they share with the American people, their relationships with US presidents have often been based on their perceived commitment to the US–Israel alliance.
“When a US president displays a credible commitment to Israel’s security, Israelis usually make what they perceive to be the safer choice and support the incumbent, as with Bill Clinton in the 1990s and George W Bush in the early 2000s.
- Read more – Special report: ‘Trump polarises people and has ripped apart the country’
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“In 2016 this was taken a step further – most Israelis preferred Hillary Clinton over the lesser-known Donald Trump, thanks largely to the positive track record of her husband, who was admired here for respecting Israel’s security interests.”
Richard Pater, chief executive of UK-Israel think-tank, said any Biden administration was likely to be “less obsessive about Israeli concessions and in forging Israeli-Palestinian ties… unlike President [Barack] Obama. “Biden has already stated he would not relocate the US embassy back to Tel Aviv, so at least part of the Trump legacy will remain in place.”
Pater said the most significant question of any Biden presidency in relation to Israel would be his approach to Iran, given that he was vice-president when Obama agreed the multilateral nuclear accord.
“He may seek to reopen dialogue,” said Pater. “Israel will be hoping that this is an opportunity to fix some of the missing components [within the deal], particularly the ending of all restrictions – the sunset clause.”
Pater said Trump “deserves credit for pushing the recent peace deals over the line”, adding: “I think there is enough momentum now building between Israel and Gulf countries that it can be sustained independent of the US, though clearly the UAE will still want those [American] F-35 fighter jets.”
Others were more damning, with Tel Aviv University’s David Freilich saying Trump had “proven himself to be monumentally incompetent, so it behoves any friend of the US, which Israel is, to wish it a competent leader”.
Freilich, an adjunct professor specialising in security and diplomacy, said: “Recognising Jerusalem as the capital, recognising the Golan [Heights], these were acts that should have been saved as carrots for Israel in the context of negotiations, but he had no intention of doing anything serious about the peace process.
“Trump did some good things – we owe him for the Bahrain/UAE deals – but he didn’t do much on the Palestinian issue except for the plan, which was a non-starter.”
Former diplomat Nadav Tamir, who now works for the Peres Center, said Biden would be likely to re-engage international allies over Iran, revisit the nuclear accord and aim to empower Iran’s more moderate forces, “which the Trump Administration crushed”, before Iran’s presidential election in June.
He expected Biden to resume US aid to the Palestinian Authority, which Trump eliminated, “thereby restoring an important lever of influence over Palestinian moderates”.
Freilich said the Democrat would probably return to “more realistic proposals” from Israel’s point of view. “But Biden is a true friend of Israel, unlike Trump, who is a true friend of Trump.”
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