Netanyahu and Trump reset the US-Israel alliance after frosty Obama years
Wednesday?s White House joint press conference marked a major shift in US policy, with Donald Trump leaving the door open to a one-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Photograph: (AFP)
As his plane touched down in Washington on Valentine’s Day for his first official meeting with President Trump, Benjamin Netanyahu would have had both an old flame and the possibilities of a budding romance on his mind.
After years of tension, the Obama-Netanyahu relationship ended on a bitter note when the US abstained on a UN Security Council motion demanding an end to Israeli settlement building, allowing it to pass.
The US has traditionally shielded Israel against similar moves by the UN with its powers of veto.
To many, it was a parting shot from a president who had pushed Israel on touchy issues like settlements harder than any US leader in recent memory.
But analysts say the personal rancour between the two leaders didn’t change the essential dynamic of the longstanding alliance.
“Despite all the very public furore between Obama and Netanyahu, key analysts recognise that the relationship between the US and Israel was stronger than ever before during the eight years of the Obama presidency. That was in all the ways that mattered: the amount of military aid, the consistency of protection at the United Nations and the certainty of US diplomatic support,” said Phyllis Bennis from the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C.
Instead, the Trump administration could have a much greater impact on the shape of the US-Israel alliance in the long term.
Wednesday’s White House joint press conference marked a major shift in US policy, with Donald Trump leaving the door open to a one-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
“I’m looking at two states and one state…I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one,” said Trump.
The two-state solution has been at the centre of US foreign policy in the Middle East for decades.
Meanwhile Trump’s pick for the new US Ambassador to Israel could also signal a change on another key issue: the location of the US embassy.
David Friedman has repeatedly called for the embassy to be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a decision that would send shockwaves through the Arab world.
In a statement after his selection was announced, Friedman said he wants to advance “the cause of peace within the region, and look[s] forward to doing this from the U.S. embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem."
Trump’s comments in the joint press conference with Netanyahu show that he also backs his new envoy on this controversial stance.
"As far as the embassy moving to Jerusalem, I'd love to see that happen,” he said.
The single moment of tension in what was otherwise a reaffirmation of close US-Israel ties came on the issue of settlements, with Trump asking his counterpart to “hold back on settlements for a little bit”.
Israel’s government recently approved the construction of 6,000 controversial new settler homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
But even as Trump and Netanyahu shore up the old alliance, analysts in the US say the importance of the partnership could be diminishing in terms of the wider region.
“The complications in the region have diminished the strategic value of Israel for US policy. In the context of the Arab Spring and the rise of much more complicated wars across the region, the US is not generally relying on Israel. It’s making its own mistakes,” said Phyllis Bennis from the Institute for Policy Studies.
For now, Trump says he will work hard to deliver a “great” peace deal between Israel and Palestine in one of the world’s longest-running conflicts.
But as history shows, that is far, far easier said than done.