Trump Wrong On Neutrality Towards Israel


As an Israeli, coming from a small country but a great democracy with pluralistic views, I'm not taken back by the heated presidential campaign in the United States. There is no difference between the verbal attitudes in this race than those I witnessed in the plenum sessions as a member of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset.

A spirited debate is a sign of a healthy democracy based on free speech, freedom of expression, and the right of political affiliation. And most importantly, strong public criticism of the ruling government shows important values which, except for Israel, can be found in no country in the Middle East, particularly in the Palestinian Authority under Abbas and in in the Hamas-controlled Gaza strip.

Since Israel is the best friend and ally of the United States, enjoying broad support from Americans of all backgrounds and political spectrums, we have no stake at the outcome of the American presidential election. The natural alliance between our two countries has always been and always will be bipartisan.

Although we don't favor any of the candidates nor pass judgement of their policies and rhetoric, the comment by Mr. Trump that as president, he would be "neutral" towards Israel requires attention and clarification.

Any president of the United States, by definition, cannot be neutral between Israel and the Palestinians, because as the leader of the free world, American Presidents have always and must always continue support democracies over dictatorships.

This is not to say that the United States can't be an honest broker, which it has been throughout history. America brought about successful peace agreements between Israel and Egypt in 1979 Israel and Jordan in 1994. Siding with Israel didn't prevent these two agreements, and it didn't prevent two decades of intense negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians under American mediation.

Successive administrations, both Republican and Democrats, took the positions of being honest brokers while maintaining the natural American alliance with Israel, which both countries benefit from in many ways.

The meaning of being an honest broker is bringing the two partners to the negotiation table without prejudging the outcome or imposing a solution.

A peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians isn't a real estate deal, nor is it a business transaction. And trying to impose a six month deadline for a negotiated solution, as Mr. Trump suggested, wouldn't only be counter-productive but also dangerous.

The Palestinians have consistently avoided direct negotiations because they don't want to budge and expect the international community to deliver them a state without first stopping terror and incitement and recognizing the Jewish rights to the land of Israel.

A president of the United States must create the conditions for constructive dialogue with a give and take approach from both sides of the table. He or she must convey to the Palestinians that they must come to the table in order to bring a resolution to the conflict. 

The next president of the United States cannot impose an artificial timeline to end this conflict, an attempt which failed in past experiences, and must never be neutral to its only democratic ally in this region.

Danny Ayalon, former Israeli Ambassador to the United States, is the Rennert Visiting Professor of Foreign Policy Studies at Yeshiva University.