New page in US-Israel relations

Friday, 2017-02-17 04:47:23
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US President Donald Trump (R) greets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a joint news conference at the White House in Washington on February 15, 2017. REUTERS
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NDO – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently paid his first visit to the United States since Donald Trump took office as US President. The leader of the US’s close ally in the Middle East was warmly welcomed by the White House boss. In reply, the Israeli PM also pledged to be a close US ally under the new administration.

The US visit made by PM Netanyahu was said to turn a new page in the relationship between the two strategic allies as President Trump voiced his plan to pursue a more harmonious policy with Israel and protect the interests of US allies. The hindrances for bilateral ties under the Barack Obama administration is being gradually removed and the US-Israeli relations are expected to warm again. Israel asked for the new US administration’s solid commitments to security of the Jewish State and elimination of existing doubts under President Trump’s predecessor. An array of featured issues in relations between the two countries, ranging from the nuclear programme of Iran to the Syrian civil war and the Middle East peace process, were debated by the two leaders in the spirit of understanding and consensus.

The Israeli leader is counting more on the new tenant of the White House concerning the significant issues of alliance. The US policy under President Trump is said to favour Israel the most since the administration of former President George Bush. During his election campaign, Trump delivered a number of speeches that satisfied Israel and demonstrated a tough stance over the Iran nuclear issue. He even mentioned the intention of moving the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. However, right ahead of the visit, the US side made some adjustments with a more cautious approach in its Middle East policies. Therefore, the movement of the US Embassy to Jerusalem, which was warned by Arab nations to have the potential to ignite the “barrel of gunpowder” in the region, was temporarily put aside by the White House and was not specifically mentioned during the Israeli PM’s US visit.

One of the issues of public concern surrounding the meeting between the two leaders was the White House’s stance over the Israel-Palestine conflict. Right ahead of the visit, the Donald Trump administration demonstrated a stance that turned against the traditional view of the US, only considering the expansion of Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territories as “not good for peace”. As for Israel, the “soft” statement from the White House about Jewish settlement areas was neither a warning nor a restraint over Israel. However, it was a rather cautious adjustment of Washington as ever since starting the race to the White House, Trump has constantly voiced his support for the Jewish State and pledged to improve ties with the US ally in the Middle East.

At a joint press briefing with PM Netanyahu after their meeting at the White House, despite urging Israel to limit settlement activities, President Trump did not directly mention the two-state solution for the Israel-Palestine conflict. Trump’s declaration to “consider the two-state solution and the one-state solution” proved to be a real shock to international mediators who favour the two-state solution. This is also a surprising change in Washington’s commitment to support the two-state solution over the past decades, which has long been seen as the “key” to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Following Trump’s shocking statement, the Palestinian side immediately responded that this could seriously damage the US’s prestige in the world.

The commitments that PM Netanyahu achieved from the White House boss could satisfy the extreme right in Israel. Netanyahu was under huge pressure from extreme right figures in the cabinet and the Likud Party concerning the two-state solution with Palestine and the plan to build Jewish settlement areas. At a cabinet meeting ahead of his departure for the US visit, Netanyahu stated that the security issue would be a priority during his high-level meetings in the US; however, a number of extreme right members requested the focus be put on the Israel-Palestine conflict.

There is still a long journey ahead for the new US administration’s commitments with its ally Israel. While newly elected US President Trump is adjusting policies towards the Middle East, Israel hopes to achieve a commitment to maintain a more solid alliance with the US for the strategic benefits of both sides.