President Trump made the right call by inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to visit the White House in February. Israel is a stalwart ally, and the U.S.-Israel relationship has deteriorated in recent years.
Conservatives in both countries blame former President Barack Obama for the strains, particularly after the U.S. abstained on a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s settlement policies.
Many believe Trump will better connect personally and politically with Netanyahu. Maybe so. But a true friend to Israel should not simply acquiesce to actions that damage Israel’s long-term interests, like Netanyahu is doing with policies pushed by his right-wing governing coalition.
For instance, Israel’s recent approval of an additional 2,500 housing units in West Bank settlements may make it even harder to find accord with the Palestinians on a two-state solution, which is still officially the American and Israeli position despite a rising conservative consensus in Washington and Jerusalem to move away from that policy.
“Like any settlement announcement, it’s another setback,” Daniel C. Kurtzer, U.S. ambassador to Israel during the George W. Bush administration, told an editorial writer. “It’s taking more land. It’s establishing facts on the ground that run contrary to the idea of ultimately bringing about a two-state solution. You’re heading toward that cliff where it will be physically impossible to talk about a two-state solution.”
Kurtzer, now a Princeton University professor, used a different metaphor — “a minefield” — to describe Trump’s pledge to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. While that transfer was codified into law in 1995, presidents of both parties have issued waivers so as not to preordain the eventual outcome of a potential peace deal.
If support is slipping within Washington and Jerusalem for a two-state solution, it’s still strong in capitols worldwide, including in Paris, where a recent meeting of representatives from 70 countries convened to re-endorse the concept now that it faces new threats, said French President Francois Hollande. “It is physically threatened on the ground by the acceleration of settlements, it is politically threatened by the progressive weakening of the peace camp, it is morally threatened by the distrust that has accumulated between the parties, and that has certainly been threatened by extremists.” These sentiments should greatly matter to Netanyahu, who cannot allow Israel to become diplomatically isolated.
And not just from Europe. The burgeoning, albeit unofficial, ties being made between Israel and some Sunni Gulf states are a significant development, David Makovsky, director of the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told an editorial writer. “The common threats in the region have brought Israel and Arab states closer together. It’s got promise.”
The promise of Mideast peace is too profound to not pressure Israel to curb its settlements and continue seeking a two-state solution, and for the U.S. to not provoke a precarious situation by moving its embassy.