U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s dramatic announcement on Monday that the “establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not per se inconsistent with international law” sent shockwaves around the world. In retrospect, however, it shouldn’t have come as such a surprise.
Since his election three years ago, U.S. President Donald Trump has been consistent in his efforts to reverse the policies of the administration of his predecessor, Barack Obama. Not only in relation to Israel. But his pro-Israel stance has been steady and unapologetic from the get-go, which is as it should be.
Indeed, each of his decisions—such as recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moving the embassy accordingly, defunding the Palestinian “pay for slay” machine and acknowledging Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights—has been geared towards cementing the natural U.S.-Israel relationship in a healthy way. Every action that his administration has taken stems from the understanding that the so-called “Israeli-Palestinian peace process” has failed repeatedly—not only as a result of being based on a false premise, but of following the same old paradigm.
Team Trump has been engaging in what the high-tech sector refers to as “disruption.”
Its shift in settlement policy is part of the program. As Pompeo pointed out, calling settlements illegal “hasn’t worked. It hasn’t advanced the cause of peace.”
That’s for sure.
Fittingly, Washington’s latest bombshell came on the heels of a horrifying European Court of Justice ruling that all E.U. countries must label goods produced in Israeli settlements, so as to enable consumers to make “informed choices”—a euphemism for giving shoppers a heads-up over which “made in Israel” merchandise they should boycott.
Though much has been made of the proximity of the European and American decisions, the latter has been in process for weeks, with U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer reportedly having worked in tandem to iron out the details.
Critics of the move have been implying that this is the Trump administration’s most recent attempt to bolster Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Aside from the fact that Netanyahu can’t be helped electorally at this point—as the current coalition negotiations/impasse are not affected in the least by outside factors—the suggestion on the part of those who oppose both Trump and Netanyahu is laughable considering the gleeful claims they made in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 17 Knesset elections of a broken “bromance” between the two leaders.
When the votes were being counted and it became apparent that Netanyahu was heading for a similar coalition deadlock to the one that followed the April 9 Knesset elections, Trump was asked by reporters whether he had spoken to his Israeli counterpart.
“I have not,” he responded. “Those results are coming in, and it’s very close. … Everybody knew it was going to be very close. We’ll see what happens.”
Trump concluded by adding, “Look, our relationship is with Israel.”
Journalists at home and abroad promptly pounced on this statement, attacking the U.S. president for ostensibly dumping the Israeli prime minister when the chips were down. Trump, they said, in “typical fashion,” was distancing himself from a “loser.”
It was a classic “two-fer” takedown of both leaders, purposely obfuscating the most important element of Trump’s remark: that his administration would remain steadfastly supportive of Israel, no matter who is at the helm in Jerusalem.
That welcome message was conveyed two months ago, even as the U.S. administration’s yet-to-be-revealed Mideast peace plan was put on the back burner—yet again. Pompeo’s blessed declaration is further proof, if any were needed, that Trump meant what he said. It is great news for Israel, regardless of the makeup of the next government.
Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”