Top advisers to President-elect Donald Trump have cautioned outgoing President Barack Obama not to undertake any major foreign-policy efforts in his last two months in office, emphasizing the undesirability of such moves, especially in the Middle East. The two discussed the matter at their White House meeting last week.
After Trump met with Obama last Thursday, the Politico news site quoted a top Trump aide as saying that “on big, transformative issues where President Obama and President-elect Trump are not in alignment, I don’t think it’s in keeping with the spirit of the transition … to try to push through agenda items that are contrary to the president-elect’s positions.”
The comments contrasted with those by State Department spokesperson Mark Toner who, speaking of the Middle East peace process, said before the meeting last Thursday that “the President, but certainly Secretary Kerry and before him, Secretary Clinton, have worked long and hard to bring the two sides together, the two parties together into direct negotiations … it’s going to remain this administration’s pursuit until the very final moments.”
Toner did not specify any new diplomatic initiatives that might be undertaken, but he did say that Secretary of State John Kerry “remains very engaged on it. He speaks frequently with leaders in the region, but also with Prime Minister Netanyahu about new approaches or new ideas and ways to revitalize those efforts. Again, I don’t have any groundbreaking announcements to make, but I can’t rule out that there may be a new initiative before the end of this administration.”
There has been major speculation in recent weeks that after the election, Obama would undertake a major push to bring Israel and the Palestinian Authority to a deal, even if it meant pressuring Israel by failing to veto anti-Israel measures at the U.N. Security Council or the like. However, the speculation after the election has revolved about how Trump plans to roll back Obama’s signature “legacy” policies, such as the American Care Act, the Iran nuclear deal, and how he plans to take a hands-off stance on the Middle East. With Trump set to reverse much of what Obama has already done, analysts believe, there is little incentive for Obama to act now anyway.
In an interview with CBS Sunday night, Trump said that the very long 90-minute meeting he held with Obama – far longer than the 15 minutes that had originally been scheduled – was dedicated to serious discussion of policy. “We talked about the Middle East. That’s tough,” Trump said. “I wanted to get his full view.”
Since Trump’s stunning election upset victory, rightwing political leaders have been celebrating the perceived freedom Israel will now have to build in Yehudah and Shomron. Statements by several of his top advisers have lent credence to these views. In an interview on the day after the election, David Friedman, an attorney who has worked with President-elect Donald Trump for decades and during the campaign advised him on Israel and Jewish affairs, told Army Radio that “Israel will have an extraordinarily good friend in the White House, one who will treat Israel with love and respect, and one who appreciates the miracle of Israel. It will be a very welcome change from the past eight years.” Friedman is likely to be named American ambassador to Israel, according to media reports.
Speaking Sunday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that President-elect Donald Trump “is a true friend of Israel, and the staff surrounding him have a deep friendship with us. I spoke with the President-elect on the phone last week, and in this conversation as well he expressed his strong support for Israel. This is a friendship that he has long professed, as has the staff he is surrounding himself with.”
Nearly all candidates for top posts in a Trump administration have been outspoken supporters of Israel. For example, the leading candidates for the position of Secretary of State are former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton. The latter has written hundreds of articles stressing the need for a strong Israel, while in 2011 Gingrich said that the Palestinians were an “invented” people. “”I think that we’ve had an invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs and who were historically part of the Arab community,” Gingrich said in an interview. “And they had a chance to go many places, and for a variety of political reasons we have sustained this war against Israel now since the 1940s, and it’s tragic.”