President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu did not meet in Washington to discuss the settlements and Israel’s Regularization Bill. While these issue stir a heated debate in Israel, they now play a much more marginal role in Israel-US relations.
The Trump Administration has yet to shape its Middle East policy, as is evident by the occasionally contradictory messages coming out of the White House. Nevertheless, it is clear that the new administration has a different approach than its predecessor to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Trump does not intend to impose a solution to the conflict, nor is he planning to support international steps to do so at the UN. He will most likely limit his engagement on the issue.
Recent reports from Washington, as well as statements by top officials there, indicate that there are new understandings between the Israeli and American leaderships. Both sides share a lack of urgency towards an Israeli-Palestinian deal, let alone towards implementing the two-state vision. Apparently, they are both satisfied with the continuation of the status quo, in one form or another. There are no more harsh American condemnations of Israeli settlements, and no US pressure is put on Israel to change its policies. On the other hand, the US also refrains from supportive statements regarding settlement expansion or other steps taken by Israel.
This situation is convenient for Trump, as he takes his first steps in the international arena. It is also convenient for Netanyahu, who enjoys sympathy in Washington without fanfare that would increase pressure from the Israeli right to annex territories and establish new settlements. As far as Trump and Netanyahu are concerned, Israel will avoid provocations and the White House will avoid condemnations.
The Israeli-American dialogue will now shift to other crucial strategic issues, on which Israel seeks clarifications and support from the US. First and foremost, policies vis-à-vis Russia. Israel is closely monitoring the Trump-Putin relationship, and wants to ensure that any agreement between the two leaders on issues like Syria and Islamic terror will take Israel’s interests into account. Israel is eager to know which policies Trump will implement on Iran, and on the fate of the nuclear deal. Moreover, both Israel and the US are seeking to advance relations with the major Sunni states – Egypt and Saudi Arabia – as a counterweight to Iran.
The Palestinian issue does not top the Israeli-American diplomatic agenda, and is unlikely to be prioritized above other strategic issues of higher importance to both countries. In light of this reality, and of the major questions surrounding Trump's administration and personality, Israel should adopt a cautious approach when engaging with the new US President.
Published for "Mitvim" – The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies