Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu likely has high hopes for U.S. President Donald Trump. Trump has gone to great lengths to differentiate himself from his predecessor, President Barack Obama, who had a tense relationship with Israel on account of his anti-settlement stance and his support for nuclear diplomacy with Iran. Netanyahu—who has long-standing relationships in Republican circles—may be looking forward to finally having a GOP counterpart in the White House. That said, despite greater superficial compatibility on policy and politics, Trump may create as many problems for Netanyahu and Israel as he solves.
THE GOP TIES THAT BIND?
Although he has never before served as prime minister during a U.S. Republican administration, Netanyahu has deep ties with the GOP. As U.S. evangelicals became politically active as Republicans during the 1980s and 1990s, he recruited them to Israel’s cause, even trying to leverage their support to counter President Clinton during peace talks. During the 2012 presidential race, moreover, Netanyahu’s apparent preference for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney went uncorrected. The Israeli prime minister also has a close relationship with Republican mega-donors, such as casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.
Netanyahu developed these ties in part because he believed that Republicans would be less likely than Democrats to pressure Israel on key issues, such as territorial concessions to Palestinians and Israeli wartime conduct. Republican opposition to Obama’s Iran nuclear deal and abstention on a resolution against settlement building in the United Nations Security Council reaffirmed Netanyahu’s conviction.
Trump, however, is a political newcomer with only loose ties to the party Netanyahu has befriended, making his views and intentions uncertain. The president seems eager to demonstrate his closeness to Netanyahu, nominating an ambassador, former campaign adviser David Friedman, who is highly unlikely to press Netanyahu on Palestinian issues. Yet Trump may cause Netanyahu discomfort in pursuit of what he called the “ultimate deal” between Israelis and Palestinians because renewed diplomacy could lead Trump to press Israel for concessions.