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US Policies towards ME Jan 17 .pdf



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Volume 5, Issue 1, January 20171

 Ambassador Friedman? - Trump’s controversial nomination of David Friedman as Ambassador
to Israel highlights a divide between the President-elect and his constituency. US Middle East
policy has included a commitment to a peaceful two-state solution for decades, a view that most
Americans share. Polling data shows that 71% of Jewish Americans voted for Democrats in the
2016 elections, and the two-state solution is supported by the Democratic party platform.
Friedman describes the two-state solution “an illusory solution in search of a non-existent
problem,” has strong ties to Israel’s settler right, and supports -- both ideologically and financially
-- expanding the settlement enterprise. He has condemned J Street as “far worse than kapos,”
and publicly called President Obama anti-semitic. These views call into question Friedman’s basic
ability to represent his country abroad, and have led to widespread opposition to his nomination.
 Cabinet nominations - Trump recently appointed his second Israel policy advisor, Jason
Greenblatt, as special representative for international negotiations, a new position that would
include any Israeli-Palestinian talks. Unlike Friedman, Greenblatt is not involved in funding the
settlements; he also believes that the two-state solution should not be taken off the table (although
he rejects efforts to impose it). Trump’s nominees for Secretaries of Defense and State, Gen.
(ret.) James Mattis and Rex Tillerson, are also poised to serve as counterweights to Friedman on
Israel policy. Tillerson has a history of business deals in the Arab world, close ties with Russia,
and no established track record on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Gen. Mattis opposes the
settlements, and is expected to be an influential voice in the administration.
 Embassy relocation? - Trump is signaling intent to make good on his campaign promise to
relocate the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but it is still unclear that he will do so. If
taken in isolation, such a move could destabilize the situation and prompt a new wave of violence.
If executed carefully, in the context of other steps towards a two-state solution, the move could
shake up a stagnant conflict resolution process. Former Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk
describes one potential “Jerusalem-first” approach that would move the final-status issue of
Jerusalem to the beginning of negotiations. Under such an approach, Trump could declare his
intent to establish a second embassy, to Palestine, in East Jerusalem, and immediately convene
a summit for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on Jerusalem’s status.

*

Rebecca Bornstein is a researcher at the Mitvim Institute, rbornstein@mitvim.org.il. Previous issues of this monthly
report can be read here.
.

2

US Policies towards Israel and the Middle East 5 (1), January 2017

 Anti-BDS legislation - Nevada is the latest state to take up anti-BDS legislation. Proposed SB26
would require state agencies to contract only with companies that certify, in writing, that they will
not boycott Israel during the contract term. Like many other anti-BDS bills, SB26 would apply
equally to “a person or entity doing business in Israel or in territories controlled by Israel.” These
pieces of state legislation reveal an effort to legally enmesh Israel and the settlements, and
counter differentiation policies.

 UN Security Council Resolution on Israeli Settlements - The American abstention on UNSCR
2334 is aligned with longstanding US policy towards settlements and the two-state solution.
Ambassador Samantha Power’s explanation of the vote couples support for Israel and criticism
of the UN’s disproportionate focus on it with strong criticism of the settlement enterprise from the
perspective of security. Power argues that settlement activity undermines Israel’s security,
imperils the two-state solution, and destabilizes the conflict. Trump responded to the vote via
twitter, first urging President Obama to veto the resolution, and later criticizing the abstention with
a reminder that "January 20th is fast approaching!" Recently, Mitvim experts addressed several
facets of the decision and its implications going forward.
● Kerry’s speech - Both Secretary Kerry’s speech on parameters for Israeli-Palestinian peace and
UNSCR 2334 provide a sharp contrast to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s assertion that Israel can
maintain the status quo, and without paying a diplomatic price. After years of questioning Israel’s
commitment to the two-state solution, especially on the basis of settlement policy, the speech can
be viewed as the administration “taking no for an answer.” Kerry’s speech outlines six principles
towards a final-status agreement. These principles can serve as guidelines for the incoming
administration, or as a benchmark against which any significant policy changes can be compared.
Kerry’s speech includes linkage to the Arab Peace Initiative, and earned support from Egypt,
Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.
● Paris peace summit - The peace summit is scheduled for January 15, and it provides an
opportunity for the international community to further institutionalize a consensus on IsraeliPalestinian peace during Obama’s term in office. While the State Department has not yet
announced whether Kerry will attend, a spokesperson confirmed that he will keep focusing on the
conflict through the end of his term. It is possible that decisions made in Paris could lead to a
second UN Security Council resolution before Trump’s inauguration on January 20, although it is
not clear that the US would support such action. White House Spokesperson Ben Rhodes said
that “abstention [on UNSCR 2334] reflects the reality that we don’t want to suggest that the United
Nations should be used for efforts beyond this one to address final status issues, or to recognize
a Palestinian state, or to endorse a set of parameters.”

3

US Policies towards Israel and the Middle East 5 (1), January 2017

● Syria - US-Russian efforts to negotiate a ceasefire in Aleppo crumbled in mid-December, and
Russian-backed Syrian regime forces retook the city amid heavy civilian casualties described by
UN Ambassador Samantha Power as “crimes committed by the Assad regime, Russia, and Iran.”
Regime forces now control Aleppo, after an eventual deal brokered by Russia and Turkey allowed
civilians and opposition fighters passage to Idlib. The Syrian regime’s ability to retake Aleppo
shows the endurance of Moscow’s military commitment to Damascus. A larger Russia and
Turkey-backed ceasefire came into effect at the end of the month, and was endorsed in UN
Security Council Resolution 2336. The US supported the resolution despite concern over a
reported regime offensive near Damascus. Allegations of regime violations have prompted Syrian
opposition groups to withdraw from peace talks scheduled for mid-January in Astana,
Kazakhstan. The State Department has not provided a substantive response to the fact that it
was not included in this latest ceasefire negotiation, and President Obama’s final press
conference of 2016 included a defense of US Syria policy and sharp criticism of Russia.
● Yemen/Saudi Arabia - The US blocked a transfer of precision munitions to Saudi Arabia as a
“direct reflection of concerns about Saudi strikes [in Yemen] that have resulted in civilian
casualties,” according to a US official. The US plans to increase intelligence sharing with Saudi
Arabia on threats along the border, but reevaluate weapons sales and other military cooperation
with Saudi Arabia, in light of mounting civilian casualties. The Foreign Ministers of the US, UK,
Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the UAE, along with the UN Special Envoy met in December to discuss
proposals on resolving the Yemen war, but ceasefire efforts have been unsuccessful.

● The Iran deal and a Trump administration - Top American scientists published an open letter
to Trump urging him to abide by the nuclear deal, following assessments by US and Israeli
security officials that the deal is working and has reduced Iran’s nuclear threat. Despite Trump’s
campaign promise to abandon the deal, there is little domestic appetite for such a move. Secretary
of Defense nominee Gen. (ret.) Mattis has said that “absent a clear and present violation,” the US
should not go back on the deal, and that any reinstated unilateral sanctions could not compare to
the coordinated, multilateral campaign in place before the Iran deal. Post-deal business ties
continue to grow, and Boeing’s announcement of its $16.6b deal with Iran Air included clear
messaging to Trump in its emphasis on jobs creation in the US.

4

US Policies towards Israel and the Middle East 5 (1), January 2017

Topic

Articles
Aaron David Miller, "Trump's New Ambassador to Israel Heralds a Radical Change in
Policy." Foreign Policy, December 17, 2016.
Ilan Goldenberg, "CNAS Press Note: Secretary Kerry’s Speech on the Two-State
Solution," Center for a New American Security, December 28, 2016

Israel /
Peace
Process

Dylan Matthews, Interview with Matthew Duss, "Kerry has finally decided to take no for
an answer: why he gave his big Israel speech," Vox, December 29, 2016
Karen DeYoung, "How the US came to abstain on a UN resolution condemning Israeli
settlements," Washington Post, December 28, 2016.
Natan Sachs. "What’s New and What’s Not in the U.N. Resolution on Israeli
Settlements." Brookings, December 28, 2016
Martin Indyk, "Obama, Trump, and the Settlers," Politico, December 27, 2016
Paul Salem, "Security and US interests in the Middle East," Middle East Institute,
December 16, 2016
Robin Wright, "The battle for Aleppo, Syria's Stalingrad, ends," New Yorker, December
13, 2016
Conference: "Saban Forum 2016: Challenges for the Trump Administration in the
Middle East," Brookings, December 2, 2016

Middle East
Nicholas Heras, "Shaky start for new cease-fire launched in Syria without the U.S.,"
Center for a New American Security, January 3, 2016
Elliott Abrams, "How to support democracy in the Arab World," Council on Foreign
Relations, December 13, 2016.
Jay Solomon, "Egypt welcomes prospect of warmer US-Russia ties under Trump," Wall
Street Journal, December 8, 2016
Kelsey Davenport, "Dismantling the Iran Deal Would Be Dangerous and Unwise,"
Arms Control Association, December 13, 2016
Iran

Robert Joseph and Ray Takeyh, "How Trump should contain Iran: beyond the nuclear
deal," Foreign Affairs, December 15, 2016

5

US Policies towards Israel and the Middle East 5 (1), January 2017

Date

Event

December 4

Secretary Kerry participates in the Brookings Institution Saban Forum

December 12 A meeting of the U.S.-Palestinian Political Dialogue is held in Washington DC

December 16

Secretary Kerry travels to Riyadh to meet with senior Saudi officials on efforts
to resolve the war in Yemen

Foreign Ministers of the the US, UK, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the UAE, along
December 18 with the UN Special Envoy, met and issued a communique on the war in
Yemen
December 19 Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrey Karlov assassinated in Ankara

December 23

The UN Security Council passes Resolution 2334 on Israeli settlements by a
vote of 14-0-1

December 28 Secretary Kerry delivers a speech on parameters for Israeli-Palestinian peace
December 30

Russia and Turkey-brokered ceasefire announced in Syria


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