Speculation is swirling around who will comprise President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet, in part to glean a sense of his policies. Trump dithered on America’s role in the Middle East during the campaign. Yet with regard to Israel, two key advisers with hardline visions not usually endorsed by mainstream candidates have made specific promises in recent months which, in the wake of the election results, are being heralded as ending the “era of a Palestinian state.”
A year ago Trump began his race stating he was “neutral” on Israel. Quickly he shifted gears after catching flack from pro-Israel and Jewish groups traditionally aligned with the GOP. A more hardline Trump debuted at the AIPAC policy conference last March, where he made a commitment usually given by fringe Republican candidates and not frontrunners; Trump said he would move Israel’s capital to Jerusalem.
In his speech, Trump also cooled skeptical Jewish institutions that were displeased with his silence on the anti-Semitic voices fomenting alongside his rallies. His son-in-law Jared Kushner who is an Orthodox Jew was reported to have heavily contributed to the draft. Trump closed AIPAC by reminding his audience, “My daughter Ivanka is about to have a beautiful Jewish baby.”
Today, Trump’s stride has positioned him to be “the most pro-Israel candidate this nation has seen,” or so said one of the two men thought to be behind the about face, Trump Israel adviser David Friedman. Friedman was describing why Trump hired him in an interview on Monday with Your Voice radio, a station created to support the Trump campaign according to its website.
Friedman has talked at length about his view against a Palestinian state and for Israeli annexation of the West Bank, but on Monday he said that Trump’s position was the same.
“We’re taking the view that the Israelis have just as much of a right if a much greater right to Judea and Samaria as the Palestinians, and when they sit down and talk to each other it will be on that basis. That is frankly, a unique position of Donald Trump and one that we are very proud of,” he said, using the religious Jewish term to designate the West Bank.
Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967 and since that time the official policy of every U.S. administration has been that these are occupied lands. Similarly, every U.S. administration has considered Israel’s capital Tel Aviv.
“It’s not just the commitment of an individual, it’s the commitment of an entire political party to support the state of Israel in ways that frankly Israel has not seen from this country before,” Friedman said.
“A Trump administration Israel relationship is going to look very different from an Obama administration,” Friedman said, conveying to Your Voice that Trump also intends to increase intelligence sharing between the U.S. and Israel, and wipe out the Obama-Netanyahu deal that capped U.S. aid to Israel at $38 billion over the next ten years.
Friedman says that number is too low and does not account for inflation.
Gaza, Friedman said, is not on the Trump to-do list. Friedman has previously alluded to Gaza no longer being a priority during a hot-mic lunch with a spokesperson for a settler organization we reported on a few weeks ago.
As for the Palestinians, their government should expect less from the U.S. under President Trump. Friedman added that Trump would immediately suspend direct assistance to the Palestinian Authority until it stops paying subsidies to the families of imprisoned or killed Palestinians who attack Israelis in nationalist crimes. This issue has been raised by Congress in the past but never became law.
The financial loss of U.S. direct support to the Palestinian Authority is negligible. Although the Palestinian leadership is cash-strapped, most of the American aid is for USAID projects and not handed over to the Palestinians themselves. The Obama administration made further changes to how the U.S. gives funds to the Palestinian Authority. Now, the U.S. pays Palestinians creditors rather than give the money directly to the Palestinian government to manage and spend, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service earlier this year.
Moreover, the Palestinians have claimed since 2015 they no longer use funds from the West Bank government to finance the prisoner subsidies.
Before zooming into the campaign Friedman was Trump’s bankruptcy lawyer from his Atlantic City casino case and a partner at the same law firm handling Trump’s litigious row with the New York Times. He is one of two chairs to Trump’s Israel Advisory Committee, serving alongside Jason Greenblatt, a real estate lawyer and the chief legal officer of the Trump organization since 1997.
Neither Freidman nor Greenblatt have professional foreign policy experience.
Friedman’s most relevant credentials include heading a Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces charity that raises funds for the Israeli military, and Greenblatt once attended a religious school in a West Bank settlement and has authored a tourist guide on family holidays in Israel. He supports 10-day trips for traveling parents and their children.
In that sense, both Trump and his Israeli advisers are Washington outsiders.
In an interview with Orthodox outlet Yated Ne’eman in August, Greenblatt said he studied at a yeshiva in the West Bank settlement of Alon Shuvot before attending university. If Trump ends up giving Greenblatt one of the more than 4,000 political appointments he is to make over the next 70-some days, he stands to become the most senior official in any U.S. administration to have lived in a settlement.
Whatever Trump’s Israel policy ends up being, it will likely be shaped more dominantly by his pick for Secretary of State. Newt Gingrich is the rumored frontrunner, according to cable reports and Politico‘s list of cabinet hopefuls. Gingrich has long championed moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and once called the Palestinians an “invented” people in an interview with the Jewish Channel while he was on the campaign trail for his own presidential bid in 2011.
Both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu phoned Trump today to congratulate him. Trump invited Netanyahu to Washington DC for a meeting “at the first opportunity.”
Netanyahu then made another call to former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton wishing her well.