Trump could be Israel’s worst nightmare

Gregg Carlstrom writes: Netanyahu is a cautious politician. He prefers the status quo to dramatic steps. For all their personal animosity, Obama was actually a great help in this respect: Netanyahu invoked his name in Cabinet meetings like a father warning his unruly children about the boogeyman. He used the specter of an American response to deter the far-right impulses of his coalition partners. With Trump in office, he loses that ability.

In order to stay in power, Netanyahu will have to appease the growing chorus of voices on his right. Some of the extreme views in his Cabinet are no longer so extreme. For example, a November poll by the Israel Democracy Institute found that 44 percent of Israeli Jews support annexation of the full West Bank, with just 38 percent opposed. Perhaps more striking, a plurality does not believe the Palestinians living there should be granted equal rights. “That is, a small but significant minority of the Jewish public supports a situation that the international community regards as apartheid,” the pollsters noted.

Any move toward annexation would cause irreparable harm to Israel’s relationships with its closest allies. As Kerry said in his speech [on Wednesday], “if the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic, it cannot be both.”

In September, Netanyahu announced at the General Assembly that Israel had broadened its diplomatic relations, not just with traditional allies in the West, but with emerging powers and markets in Africa, Asia and Latin America. But many of these “new allies” were part of the 14 nations that voted unanimously for the resolution last week. Netanyahu speaks with Vladimir Putin more frequently than any Western leader, but Moscow voted in favor. He has spent years cultivating ties with tiny Senegal, which benefits from a major Israeli agricultural aid program. When it came time to vote at the Security Council, though, they supported the resolution.

And, at a news conference last year, Bennett said that Asian countries could become Israel’s closest friends, because they “lack a heritage of anti-Semitism” found in the West. But China and Japan backed the resolution, too. In fact, Asian diplomats in Tel Aviv tend to laugh when asked whether they would play a role as Israel’s protectors at the United Nations. “We’re not a very active player in this conflict, and I think that would continue to be the case,” one high-ranking Asian diplomat told me. “We want to maintain our distance and focus on other issues.”

Israel’s newest allies, in other words, are happy to increase trade, tourism and security cooperation — but when it comes to diplomacy, they won’t stick their necks out. And if the Netanyahu government provokes a stronger reaction from the U.N., they might even retreat.

Even more worrisome for Israel, however, is the growing alienation of American Jews, who find it more and more difficult to support a religious, right-wing government that they perceive as supporting Israeli racism and endless occupation. The tension between liberalism and Zionism, always lingering below the surface, has become more pronounced. And the Israeli government’s embrace of a president-elect (and his controversial political coterie) loathed by the vast majority of American Jews will only widen the chasm. [Continue reading…]

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