POST TIME: 22 June, 2019 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 21 June, 2019 11:21:35 PM
Netanyahu has cast Israel's vote for 2020
Donald Trump may have a Golan town named after him, but Israel can’t ignore U.S. Democrats

Netanyahu has cast Israel's vote for 2020

The entire Israeli cabinet schlepped 150 miles northward from Jerusalem to the Golan Heights Sunday to celebrate the establishment of a new town, Ramat Trump (“Trump Heights,” in English). This is only the second time an American president was honoured in this way. The first, Democratic President Harry Truman, won his place on the map for recognizing the Jewish state in 1948. Today’s Democratic field are unlikely to follow suit.

Trump’s honour comes as a thank-you for departing from longstanding American policy by recognizing Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, quitting the Big Powers’ nuclear treaty with Iran and as a down payment for the “Deal of the Century,” in which the president evidently intends to impose Israeli terms on the Arabs of the West Bank. Prime Minister Bemjamin Netanyahu lauded Trump as “a very great friend of the country, a friend who did things for the country that were not done in the past and should have been done in the name of justice and truth.”

This was a slap at Trump’s predecessors, especially Barack Obama. It was also an endorsement of Trump, if one was required, for 2020. That doesn’t mean that Israel can afford to ignore the other party in US politics. It’s just that the relationship will take more work.

All of the plausible Democratic candidates accept Israel’s right to exist within secure borders. Most are okay with Israeli military measures against rocket attacks from Gaza. A few are old friends; Joe Biden, in particular, has a long record of friendship for Israel.

But the Democrats’ relationship with Israel began withering during the Carter administration, which was the first to champion the cause of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. It reached its nadir under Barack Obama, who voted against Israel in the United Nations against Jewish settlement in the West Bank, pursued a two-state solution to the conflict on terms unacceptable to Israel and initiated a feckless nuclear deal between the big powers and Iran.

Obama’s Middle East policies still dominate Democratic diplomatic thinking. All of the current candidates support an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and an American return to the Iran deal. These are goals that many Israelis, including Netanyahu, can’t accept. Bipartisan support in Washington has been a strategic Israeli interest for generations, but the gap has grown too wide. Nearly 70% of Israelis support Trump. In American terms, Israel has gone from purple to red.

Trump may not win a second term and Israel will be watching the possible alternatives closely. It is in the primaries that activists have their greatest influence, which can be a temptation for some candidates. As a Congressman, Beto O’Rourke supported Israel. But in April, just before Israel’s last election,he  suddenly denounced Netanyahu as a racist. A week later, he congratulated Bibi on winning re-election.

Bernie Sanders makes no such flip flops. He regards the entire Israeli government as racist. He is not against the country per se, he says -- after all, he has relatives living there. He’s just against Likud, whom voters have now chosen (with Netanyahu as their leader) five times. Sanders ignores the fact that Bibi’s main opposition, the center-left Blue and White Party, largely shares the prime minister’s views on Iran, terrorism and the undesirability of turning the West Bank into an unfettered independent state.

Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Corey Booker and others will want to tread carefully. Gallup’s annual survey of American attitudes toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict shows three to one support for Israel. There are a lot of pro-Israel voters and donors (not all, by any means, Jewish) in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and other contested states.

The present field of candidates are not necessarily bad for Israel, but it is doubtful that any of them aspire to have their names on the map of the Jewish state. If one gets elected, Israel will spend the next four years trying to hold on to the gains of the last four.

The writer is a journalist and author of 14 books. He was a senior aide to Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and the founding managing editor of the Jerusalem Report Magazine.