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As Donald Trump and his transition team make the final preparations ahead of the inauguration ceremony, JOL examined five people who have been nominated or selected by the US president-elect to serve in key positions, allowing them to impact policies related to Israel and the American-Israeli relationship.
Trump and Netanyahu Photo Credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO/Channel 2 News
In just one week, Republican Donald Trump will become America’s 45th president. Trump will be assuming the most important position in America just a few weeks after Barack Obama opted not to veto an anti-settlement UNSC resolution, upsetting many Israelis and Jewish people worldwide. Trump himself denounced Obama’s decision and vowed that “things will be different” once he is sworn in.
Throughout his presidential campaign, Trump made several promises regarding Israel. For example, he promised to relocate the US embassy to Jerusalem, Israel’s capital city. On various occasions, Trump mentioned Israel, highlighting the strong and longstanding friendship between Washington and Jerusalem.
Trump has been working with his transition team to nominate members of his cabinet and select officials within his administration. Some of these people will have the ability to shape and influence the Trump administration’s policies and position toward Israel. This is the reason JOL decided to look at five key people who have been nominated or named by Trump: Rex Tillerson, James Mattis, Stephen Bannon, Jared Kushner and David Friedman.
Rex Tillerson Photo Credit: Reuters/Channel 2 News
Trump nominated ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as his secretary of state. In his recent confirmation hearing, Tillerson harshly criticized current US Secretary of State John Kerry’s speech following the passing of the UN Security Council’s anti-settlement resolution. Tillerson said that the resolution was “not helpful” and “actually undermines setting a good set of conditions for talks to continue” between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. Tillerson also stressed that the US needs to recommit to Israel.
Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Tillerson said that he supports a two-state solution. Tillerson also criticized the Palestinian Authority, saying: “It is one thing to renounce it and another to take concrete action to prevent it.”
Trump’s pick for US secretary of defense is James Mattis. During his confirmation hearing, Mattis was asked by South Carolina’s Republican Senator Lindsey Graham what he believes is Israel’s capital city. Mattis answered that he believes that Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem, is Israel’s capital city, a remark that strongly conflicts with Trump’s statements regarding the matter. “The capital of Israel, sir, is Tel Aviv because that’s where all of the government people are,” said Mattis.
When asked about the anti-settlement UNSC resolution, Mattis admitted that he only read about the subject in newspapers: “I’d have to get back and look at that. […] I don’t have an authoritative view of that right now.” In the same hearing, Mattis stressed that America needs to advance peace between Israel and the Palestinians. “I think we’ve got to restore a better relationship with Israel and with our Arab allies,” he said.
Stephen Bannon was named by Trump as one of his two senior advisers in the White House shortly after he won the election. Bannon, who was previously the executive chair of Breitbart News, is a controversial character when it comes to Israel given the fact that he has been labeled as an anti-Semite and racist by the Anti-Defamation League and other Jewish groups.
Associates close to Bannon have spoken up trying to dismiss the allegations of anti-Semitism and portray Bannon as a supporter of Israel. Joel Pollak, a senior editor at Breitbart, claimed that Bannon is “an American patriot who defends Israel & has deep empathy for the Jewish people.”
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, was named recently as a senior adviser, particularly on Middle East issues. Kushner, who was raised Orthodox and continues this lifestyle along with his wife Ivanka (Trump’s daughter), has many personal and business connections to Israel. Kushner was named an American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) benefactor in 2015.
David Friedman Photo Credit: Channel 2 News
Trump appointed David Friedman as his ambassador to Israel in December 2016. “As the United States’ ambassador to Israel, David Friedman will maintain the special relationship between our two countries,” Trump said in a statement announcing Friedman as his pick. “His strong relationships in Israel will form the foundation of his diplomatic mission and be a tremendous asset to our country as we strengthen the ties with our allies and strive for peace in the Middle East.”
Friedman, like Trump, recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city and supports Trump’s promise to relocate the embassy accordingly. Recently, it was reported that instead of moving the embassy to Jerusalem, Friedman will live in the city and work from the American Consulate along with a small support staff while the embassy remains in Tel Aviv.
Friedman has denounced the Palestinian Authority for inciting terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens. He has also voiced his belief that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are not an obstacle to peace. Friedman has questioned the US government’s actions of aiding the Israeli government in regard to a two-state solution. Moreover, he said that Israel’s Jewish character will not be at stake if a two-state solution is not achieved.
While the people who Trump appointed as key figures in his administration seem to have various opinions when it comes to Israel, it appears that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is excited for Trump to take office. On December 29, Netanyahu uploaded a video clip of Trump condemning the UNSC resolution. Netanyahu captioned the post: “I could not have said it better myself.” A few days later, Netanyahu wrote another post, thanking Trump for his support.