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October Opinion Piece

Dr. Ron Weiser AM 

Just as it is wrong of those who criticise everything President Trump says and does just because it comes from him, likewise it is wrong for his supporters to blindly praise or try and explain away, a very poor decision and/or action.

Trump made no secret of the fact from even before he was elected, that his foreign policy would be based on the principle of ‘America First’ – making America’s allies pay more towards their own defence and that America would cease to be the world’s policeman because of the cost in US lives and dollars.

But Trump’s betrayal of America’s Kurdish allies is a shocker.

It raises concerns on so many levels – the manner it was done; the various rationales given such as the Kurds “did not help us with Normandy”; his naiveté vis a vis Erdogan and so on.

Bernard-Henri Lévy called it “an Ottoman Anschluss blessed by the very Westerners, or in any case Americans, whose most dependable allies in the war against the barbarity of the Islamic State were and remain the Kurds.”

Trump’s defenders are trying to minimise the effects of this by speaking about how few US troops were there anyway and that Israel’s physical security will not be affected.

But it will.

Firstly there is the uncertainty within Israel and added psychological insecurity.

Historian, previous Israeli ambassador to the US and ex member of the Knesset in a Netanyahu government Michael Oren, wrote a bestselling book called ‘Ally’ about the US/Israel relationship and was well known for accusing then President Obama of deliberately sabotaging relations with Israel.

Now in the New York Times, Oren was responding to the Kurdish situation and Trump’s tweet that “Fighting between various groups that has been going on for hundreds of years. USA should never have been in Middle East. The stupid endless wars, for us, are ending!” 

Oren said that “he was no longer sure Israel could rely on the US, under Trump, to come to Israel’s aid at a time of serious war.”

Oren, who served in Washington from 2009-2013, recalled that at Barack Obama’s last meeting with Netanyahu the President assured the Prime Minister that “if Israel ever got into a serious war, of course the US would intervene, because that’s what the American people expect.” Said Oren, “I don’t think Israel can bank on that today… I don’t know now.”

Yes, Israel well understands that ultimately she must rely on herself etc etc but a dependable, reliable superpower on one’s side – and one seen as such by Israel’s potential enemies – is a game changer.

Secondly, there is the effect this move has on other players in the Middle East.

As Joshua Landis, an expert on Syria at the University of Oklahoma wrote, “The stock of President Trump has plummeted in the Middle East and that of President Putin is skyrocketing today because nobody trusts President Trump — they feel that he is going to yank America out of the Middle East willy-nilly and they’re going to be left on their own.” 

Already the Kurds have sought out Assad and the Syrians, and Putin and the Russians.

And with them comes Iran.

And the Saudis have rolled out the red carpet for a Putin visit and made overtures to their erstwhile arch enemy, Iran.

Of course, the outcome is not yet certain.

But the reputational damage to the US in the Middle East as long as Trump is President, is done – failing yet another U-turn.

And economic sanctions on Turkey do not represent that U-turn.

Nor does a Pence visit to Ankara, unless there is real power behind it – and not merely words.

None of this is positive for Israel at all.

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Another element of concern is that Israel still does not have a proper fully functioning government with a confirmed Prime Minister – and this after 2 elections already this year!

The only predication before these latest elections that I made as to outcome, was that this time there would be a government.

That’s looking hopeful rather than certain right now.

But there are still a number of factors that might make a result occur without the need for a 3rd election.

We are now engaged at the pointy end of the ‘blinkmanship’ game of chicken.

Who will blink first?

Regarding Netanyahu, one earlier option appears to be off the table. Likud will apparently not dump him during these negotiations.

However, at least two Likud candidates have said that they will challenge Netanyahu for the leadership when the next internal Likud elections occur.

Netanyahu is faced with the following factors making him extremely eager to make a coalition with the current Knesset numbers:

– He will probably lose his leadership of the Likud sometime next year, if not before, should he fail to secure the Prime Ministership now.

– With Likud under his leadership doing worse in September than in April, he cannot be sure of his chances in a third election.

– Legally, if indicted, only a Prime Minister may continue to serve in office and receive the legal advantages that come with it.

The law does not require him to resign and the High Court differentiates between a PM and a Minister. A Minister who is indicted must immediately be dismissed, says the High Court, so as to not compromise public trust.

No doubt there would be approaches to the High Court to have an indicted PM stand down, but as Ha’aretz says “Netanyahu can counter that the law regarding a Prime Minister is different because ousting him means new elections. He can also cite in his defence, Clause 23c of the Basic Law on the Government, which states that the law on dismissal of indicted ministers specifically does not apply to the Prime Minister.” 

Powerful reasons to blink indeed.

Lieberman has achieved his goals – an increased showing in the elections, being the central player and raising matters of religion and state to a new level.

Can he expect to do better a third time, or will he carry the odium of forcing the country to yet another election?

Who knows, but this is a calculation that Lieberman needs to make – will it be enough to make him blink?

And then we have Gantz who really has to decide if his sole principle of not wanting to join a government ostensibly led by an indicted Prime Minister Netanyahu, will bring him greater electoral success next time round or not. Even though this time he can already achieve being Prime Minister, albeit in a rotation agreement with Netanyahu.

There are any number of excuses/reasons any of them can give to blink first – the good of the nation; the ‘we have achieved our goals’; the ‘emergency’ situation caused by Trump’s actions; the need for national unity; the avoidance of yet another election and so on.

We will be in Israel next week experiencing firsthand the unfolding drama.

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For those watching the Settlements here are the latest annual figures released by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics:

– Settler growth rate remained stagnant for the third year in a row at 3.5%.
When Netanyahu came to power in 2009 the settler growth rate was 5.3% per annum.

– Smaller percentages of people are moving over the Green Line. In 2009 new settlers moving over the Green Line made up 29% of the growth, now just 12.5%. (The balance comes from local natural growth)

The Yesha Council (The Settlers’ Council) claims that the settlement population cannot grow quicker because of “government delays in large projects and the lack of authorised plans.”

– Settler building starts in the first half of 2019 dropped by 28% from 1,160 starts from January to June of 2018, to 830 in the same period this year.

– The number of apartment completions went down by 26%, from 1,104 in the first half of 2018, to 812 finished units in the first half of 2019

Moadim L’Simcha,
Dr Ron Weiser AM

Dr. Ron Weiser AM is an Hon Life Member of the Zionist Federation of Australia Executive, and the Hon Life President of the Zionist Council of NSW.