Donald Trump has doubled down on his statement at a town hall last week that he aims to be neutral in his comments on the Israel/Palestine conflict so as not to injure his ability as president to negotiate a deal between the parties. On Meet the Press yesterday he pointedly did not buy into the Republican “orthodoxy” on Israel, saying he’s very pro-Israel but peace there is the “ultimate deal” and he wasn’t going to prejudice matters.
Chuck Todd: Let me give you one more issue where you sort of went counter to what is perceived as Republican orthodoxy, and that is on the issue of Israel and the Palestinians… Explain what neutral means, because some heard that in the pro-Israeli community and thinks, “Oh, he’s going to be anti-Israel.” Explain what you mean by neutral.
Trump: If they want me, look, no, I’m very pro-Israel. In fact, I was the head of the Israeli Day Parade a number of years ago, I did a commercial for Netanyahu when he was getting elected, he asked me to do a commercial for him, I did a commercial for him. I am. But I don’t want to be– look, the hardest thing to do is that, in terms of deals, you’re a deal person, right? The ultimate deal is that deal. Israel, Palestine, if you’re going to make it, that probably is the hardest deal there is to make. People are born with hatred, they’re taught hatred. And I have to say, it’s mostly on the one side, not on the other side. But they’re taught hatred. I say this. If I’m going to be president, I’d rather be in the position, because I will try the best I can, and I’m a very good dealmaker, believe me, to try and solve that puzzle. You’re not going to solve it if you’re going to be on one side or another. Everyone understands that. If I’m going to solve the problem, I want to go in with a clean slate. Otherwise, you’re never going to get the cooperation of the other side. So that’s all I’m saying.
Trump somewhat tempered his smear of Palestinians as the haters that he issued last week. And he sorta flicked off the fact that he endorsed Benjamin Netanyahu before the 2013 elections in Israel as a polite gesture. Message: that guy has nothing on me.
Hillary Clinton has responded to Trump with an emphatically pro-Israel statement. Remember that Trump thumbed his nose at the Republican Jewish Coalition in December and a month later baited Hillary Clinton on her support for Israel’s apartheid wall:
Hillary Clinton said that it is O.K. to ban Muslims from Israel by building a WALL, but not O.K. to do so in the U.S. We must be vigilant!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 2, 2016
Back in October, Trump made fun of Marco Rubio for sucking up to Sheldon Adelson:
Sheldon Adelson is looking to give big dollars to Rubio because he feels he can mold him into his perfect little puppet. I agree!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 13, 2015
Trump surely senses that he can gain by exhibiting independence of the Israel lobby. Here are some other straws in the wind:
–A new poll shows that the number of Americans holding a favorable view of Israel has declined 16 percent in the last year, to 59 percent. And in the same interval those holding a favorable view of the Palestinians has surged 42 percent, to 25 percent, and even Iran has had an image-makeover, with 16 percent of Americans regarding the country favorably, up considerably. Grant Smith of the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy says the data reveal “a stunning turn in U.S. public opinion.”
–The MSM are reflecting the thaw. Last week Newsweek ran a defiant piece by Hanin Zoabi, the Palestinian Israeli legislator who has been suspended from the Knesset as a troublemaker, explaining Palestinian violence as a response to occupation and discrimination. Boldly titled, “Why Israel Is Fighting the Indigenous Palestinians,” it included these lines: “The occupier does not have the right to self-defense. We, the occupied, have the full and only right to fight it, by all means recognized within the framework of international law.”
–Did you notice A.O. Scott’s review of a new Israeli documentary on the Rabin assassination in the New York Times a few weeks ago? This intervention, on behalf of Palestinians, comes late in his piece, but it is highly intentional. The “film’s silences” are “troubling,” Scott avers:
The Palestinians, to the extent that they are mentioned, function as an abstraction, as if the polarization of Israeli politics didn’t concern them at all. And while it’s true that Rabin’s killing exposed and deepened a schism within Zionism, it’s also true that Zionism exists in a larger political context. Acknowledging this would not have made “Rabin, the Last Day” less upsetting but might have relieved some of the claustrophobia.
So Zionism exists in a larger political context! Scott is referring to Europeans who have soured on Zionism, Arabs who can’t stand Zionism, and anti-Zionists in the Jewish community too. He is as weary as we are of the claustrophobia. (Wikipedia says Scott is half-Jewish, flavor of the century).
I throw in these stray facts to say that American public opinion is changing (as is Jewish opinion) and there is political hay to be made of the changes. Donald Trump surely senses this, in his populist campaign. And so he is preparing to run against Marco Rubio by saying that Rubio is Sheldon Adelson’s “perfect little puppet”, and preparing to set up a general election campaign against Hillary Clinton in which he can call out her beholdenness to the billionaire Haim Saban.
In his reissued autobiography of last fall, Bernie Sanders refers with disdain to Sheldon Adelson and the “Adelson primary” on the very first page. But that’s the last we hear of it: Adelson, who is in bed with Hillary Clinton’s good friend Haim Saban. Sanders is ignoring a populist political opportunity that Donald Trump has seized upon. Go figure.
Update: Aaron David Miller believes Trump’s statements reflect his ambition to cut the deal of deals. But he feels the chill: “Donald Trump’s rhetoric is decidedly less effusive and his tone much cooler and more detached than his rivals when it comes to Israel and Jewish issues.”
Thanks to Peter Feld and Scott McConnell.