Pre-Election Promises and the General Line: What Will Happen to the US Middle East Policy?

16.02.2017

On Wednesday, February 15, US President Donald Trump met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington. At a joint press conference following the talks, the US President said he did not consider a two-state solution the only way to resolve the Palestinian problem, but at the same time urged Israel to refrain from building new settlements in the West Bank. Irina Zvyagelskaya, Senior Researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies, told valdaiclub.com about the results of the visit.

According to Zvyagelskaya, Netanyahu flew to Washington with the hope that US-Israeli relations would be elevated to a new level, making them warmer and more sincere.

"He believes that the American leadership has again turned toward Israel, that the difficulties seen under Obama will pass, and the tough policy on settlements will be left behind," she said.

The two leaders’ joint press conference did show that the United States has begun to soften rhetoric. In particular, Trump spoke of the possibility of transferring the US embassy to Jerusalem. Also, Trump made Israel-friendly statements during his election trail, but, according Zvyagelskaya, his policy will differ significantly from the pre-election statements.

"Everyone recognizes that Trump is not well-versed in foreign policy, much less than Obama, who was accused of exactly the same,” she noted. “During his election campaign, he said a lot of things that are not very compatible with the usual American approach to certain issues. He is unlikely to be able to carry out his foreign policy statements as dashingly as his domestic ones. America is a country of institutions, and the president is not a sultan, he will have to reckon with the institutions. This has been demonstrated to him and will continue to be demonstrated."

Democracy, American Style: What Will US Foreign Policy Be Like Under Trump? Pavel Sharikov
The messianic idea has always been a fixture of US foreign policy ideology based on the notion that the US is the “city upon a hill” and its manifest destiny is to be the leader of the free world. In the second half of the 20th century, American exceptionalism was largely associated with the project to spread US-style democracy.

According to Zvyagelskaya, the United States has a general foreign policy line and it would be wrong to assume that there will be a departure from it under Trump.

"If we talk about basic things, for example, how it will affect the resolution of, say, the Palestinian problem, Trump will probably not wield great influence in his first hundred days. Sure, interest in the Palestinian issue has increased, but it is still overshadowed in the Middle East by completely different things, like Syria, Iraq, problems in Yemen, complex relations between Iran and the Sunni world, and so on," she said.

As for Netanyahu, his position in the country is rather complicated, according to Zvyagelskaya.

"Endless investigations are being conducted against him. He is said to spend half the day sitting with his lawyers, and only then engages in public affairs. In these circumstances, it is very difficult to conduct any sort of active foreign policy that would meet his ideas about what is necessary for Israel," she added.

Netanyahu is not among those who want to settle the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, according to Zvyagelskaya. For him, it is important that the Palestinian issue continues to remain on pause, which would allow Israel to continue to informally build relations with Arab countries and improve mutual understanding in an environment where the common enemy is Iran. In other words, to take advantage of the new balance of power.

"With this balance of power, Netanyahu understands pretty well that the Palestinian issue will still hinder the normalization of relations with Arabs. However, he may be satisfied with a sort of intermediate situation, where diplomatic relations are absent, but mutual understanding on an array of issues is pronounced,” Zvyagelskaya concluded.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.

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