USA Foreign Policy First Look

Could Trump’s presidency repair US-Israel relations?

President-elect Donald Trump ramps up his support of Israel just as tensions between President Obama’s administration and the Jewish state have crumbled. Could Mr. Trump’s ideas bring peace to the area?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) speaks to then-Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump during their meeting in New York City in September.
Kobi Gideon/Government Press Office/Reuters/File
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President-elect Donald Trump has said “things will be different” for Israel and the United Nations when he enters the Oval Office next month, but some question if he can repair the declining relationship between the United States and its closest Middle East ally.

Many world leaders are watching the incoming Trump administration with great skepticism, wondering how the unconventional president may affect their relations with the US. While a number are wary, some, including Israel, could find greater favor for their causes under Mr. Trump, who has said many are treating the Jewish state "very, very unfairly."

Relations between Israel and the Obama administration reached a new low after the US didn't block a UN resolution condemning new Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem late last week. On Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry further enraged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by accusing him of hampering Israel’s democracy and criticizing the settlements. Mr. Kerry also defended the US’s role on the UN Security Council that allowed the vote.

"If the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic, it cannot be both, and it won't ever really be at peace," he said.

Mr. Netanyahu criticized the remarks as an overstep of Kerry’ authority and suggested that Israel was done cooperating with the outgoing administration.

"Israelis do not need to be lectured about the importance of peace by foreign leaders," he said.

Trump has said his administration will usher in friendlier policies towards Israel. The billionaire businessman jumped into the debate last week, urging President Obama to use the US’s veto power to block the UN vote.

When the president didn’t comply, Trump criticized Mr. Obama and the UN, promising on Twitter that “things will be different after Jan. 20th.”

He also plans to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in what many consider a controversial step.

"The reasons why the United States should move the embassy I think are pretty clear," Ron Dermer, the current Israeli ambassador to the US, said in impassioned remarks at a Hanukkah party at the Israeli Embassy in Washington last week, according to Politico. "The first thing, it would send a strong message against the de-legitimization of Israel and of Jerusalem.... The second reason why I think the embassy should be moved to our capital is that it would be a great step forward to peace. That's right. A great step forward to peace."

Many worry that proposed move, along with Trump’s hardline Orthodox Jew nominee for ambassador to Israel David Friedman, could shakeup the stability that remains in that region, angering Palestinian negotiators and driving further divisions between the two parties and fueling extremism that could escalate violent conflicts.

But those fears may be exaggerated, overlooking the benefits to be gained by the move’s political implications, Miriam Elman, a research director in the Program for the Advancement of Research in Conflict and Collaboration, argues in a piece for The Washington Post.

“A reversal of the longtime U.S. diplomatic boycott of Jerusalem could bode well for Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects,” she writes. “Sending a strong message that the new administration stands with the Israeli government on a major symbolic issue with high potential costs could push the Palestinian leadership to a greater sense of urgency in negotiations. The U.S. Embassy move could even help advance efforts to duplicate the precious Jewish-Muslim coexistence model of Samuel’s Tomb for Jerusalem’s other contested sacred spaces.”

This report contains material from the Associated Press.