Wednesday’s meeting between President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu provides a fascinating first glimpse at what the next four years of American policy in the Middle East will look like.
We’re all too aware of what the Israeli and American right wing are hoping for. Naftali Bennett and the settler movement want to sound the death knell of the two-state solution and a give a green light to annexation and uninhibited West Bank settlement construction.
American supporters of Trump — like Sheldon Adelson, who had dinner with him last week — don’t want to hear further talk about two states. Undoubtedly, similar messages are coming from the team that advised the campaign on Israel — led by a prominent American fundraiser for the settlement movement, David Friedman, who is now Trump’s nominee to be US Ambassador to Israel.
But the President may have different ideas. In stark contrast to how he has handled other issues, his rhetoric and actions since Inauguration Day on Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been restrained. And the rapturous applause of the settlement movement has gone quiet.
Trump has not yet moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, as he promised he would — not on Day One, nor on Day Twenty.
He has gently but noticeably critiqued settlement expansion, both in an official statement and a recent interview. He has chosen several key cabinet appointees who seemingly understand the importance of the two-state solution.
Most importantly, he and some around him are expressing real interest in pursuing a comprehensive regional peace agreement, with the hope of involving Sunni Arab countries in a process that could help bring Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table.
And there’s good reason for the administration to be encouraging a fundamentally new strategic alignment between Israel and its neighbors. This new approach would not only resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but would cement in Israel’s place in the region, potentially allowing it to pivot from being viewed as a strategic threat to a strategic asset to its Sunni neighbors.
When it comes to Iran, the big question is whether Netanyahu will really try to convince Trump to take up one of his many supposed ideas for undoing the nuclear agreement. Or, will we see a lot of tough talk, but essentially the same rigid enforcement of the agreement and pushback against other Iranian actions that constituted the Obama playbook?
We’ll be watching the White House closely on Wednesday for signs of where we are headed.
Then, when the White House meeting is over, all eyes should turn to the Senate. Incredibly, just a day after the Prime Minister comes to town, David Friedman will face his confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
As a major ideological and financial backer of the settlement movement, Friedman represents the worst of what Trump’s Middle East policies could have to offer.
His extreme ideas and outrageous attacks on those with whom he disagrees show that he’s a totally inappropriate choice to serve as US Ambassador to Israel — which is why J Street has mounted a vigorous opposition to his nomination.
By challenging and rejecting Friedman and his views, the Senate can send a powerful message to the President about what course his administration can and must take — and remind both President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu that effective leaders must refuse to enable extremists.
This will be a challenging week. We in the pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy movement will do everything we can to push the new administration to sideline the likes of David Friedman — and push forward policies designed to help build a safer and more peaceful Middle East.
Tell your Senators: Reject David Friedman, Trump's dangerous choice for US Ambassador to Israel