Over the weekend Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson became the leading candidate to become Secretary of State in the incoming Trump administration. Although most attention has been directed towards his close relationship to Vladimir Putin, there are also questions about what his appointment will mean for Israel/Palestine.
So far it seems most pro-Israel commentators are not excited. Similar to his close relationship to Putin, Tillerson has built close relationships with OPEC member countries in his role with Exxon. Some think this doesn’t bode well for Israel.
Oil company CEO's have never been known as friends of Israel. Is Rex Tillerson different?
— Max Boot (@MaxBoot) December 11, 2016
Jewish Insider gets this from ZOA’s Mort Klein:
“As an oil man, he was obviously very close to many Arab countries, had close relations with them. I am worried that this may indicate bias against Israel. His closeness with Russia concerns me as well because Russia has been enormously hostile to Israel. So, in his work life, the Arabs and the Russians were key players in his day to day work. That makes me very concerned about whether he will be extremely biased against Israel.”
Chemi Shalev writes in Haaretz that the Israeli government wouldn’t like the pick:
Jerusalem is bound to be somewhat disappointed with Tillerson’s appointment: all the other potential candidates that had been mentioned, including Bolton, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and others, have extensive ties to Israel and to right wing American Jews and a rich history of contacts with Israeli politicians, most notably Benjamin Netanyahu. Tillerson, it seems, is a blank slate as far as Israel is concerned, with less than favorable credentials: the oil industry traditionally keeps its distance from Israel and from Jews and is far more attentive to the oil-rich Arab world. Tillerson could also prove to be a moderating force on the nuclear deal with Iran, compared to Flynn and Mattis, who are thought to be hostile. He is no fan of sanctions and his industry traditionally tries to steer clear of confrontations and hostilities in the Middle East that could upset the delicate oil market.
In addition, Israel advocates are concerned about Tillerson’s friendship with Brent Scowcroft, the realist foreign policy hand who has long been viewed with disdain by neoconservatives. As we reported four years ago, Bill Kristol celebrated the purge of “oldfashioned” Arabists like Scowcroft and James Baker from the Republican Party. In 2012 Kristol told a crowd at B’nai Jeshurun synagogue on the Upper West Side:
I mean, the big story in the Republican Party over the last 30 years and I’m personally very happy about this as a Republican is first the eclipsing of I’d say the [George H.W.] Bush [Brent] Scowcroft [James] Baker traditional—it’s unfair to say– hostility to Israel– but lack of closeness and warmth for Israel … I say this as someone who served in the first Bush White House and has high regard for the first president Bush, but it was an Arabist, oldfashioned Republican Party, which was certainly very concerned about relations with Arab states that were not friendly with Israel and skeptical about the case for Israel. They have really been eclipsed by the Reagan George W. Bush McCain kind of tradition of a more sympathetic attitude toward Israel, greater support for Israel.
The other thing that for 20 years now that has been a worry for many of us on the Republican conservative side, was the rise of — the return of the Pat Buchanan/Ron Paul type of hostility to Israel. The good news is that doesn’t have much support in the Republican Party or the presidential field or Congress….”
Is it back with Tillerson? It remains to be seen, but it seems that the Trump administration is already triangulating to retain pro-Israel support.
According to the New York Times, Trump is considering naming John Bolton as deputy secretary of State where he would handle day-to-day management of the department. Bolton, a hardcore neocon activist from the Bush II White House and the American Enterprise Institute, would assuage many Zionist concerns about the incoming administration, though it would animate liberals too: Chris Matthews of MSNBC expressed alarm at the possibility on Friday, and last month when Bolton was notioned for secretary of state he said such a pick would increase the numbers of Americans who are “sad” and those who are “downright scared.”
In 2014, Bolton expressed opposition to Palestinian sovereignty, saying statehood “would inevitably lead to a terror state on the other side of the border with Israel.”
And just over the weekend this is what Bolton told Jewish Insider about his vision for a “three-state solution” for Israel/Palestine, which amazingly doesn’t involve a Palestinian state:
“I think that we can conclude objectively that the pursuit of a two-state solution has failed. Whether you believe that initially it was a viable proposition or not, after 20 plus years or more, in some cases, we just don’t have the circumstances in the region that will permit it. I propose what I call a three-state solution, that’s wildly unpopular as well, giving Gaza to Egypt, dividing the West Bank and returning sovereignty of part of it to Jordan. I’m told that it’s not workable because the Egyptians don’t want Gaza and the Jordanians don’t want part of the West Bank. I’m certainly open to other alternatives as well, but I think you have to look at the objective reality that the two-state solution doesn’t work and therefore some other alternative has to arise and creative minds ought to work on it instead of pursuing the two-state possibility, which is a dead end in my view.”
Bolton is on the advisory board of the diehard Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. Its CEO, Michael Makovsky, offered the same three-state line last week at a forum on the Upper West Side. “I really think it’s a three state solution.” This is an old neoconservative panacea: transfer Palestinian governance to Jordan. And soon it might be helping to guide the State Department.