Shalom and welcome to this edition of Through the Lens. This new videoblog will appear Live each Thursday in the noon hour and will be available for viewing on my new Facebook Public Figure Page Rabbi Eric Walker. In every election I am asked for my opinion on what I see as the most important issue and my answer is always the same. Israel. Why, you may ask, is Israel, and not the coronavirus, the economy, climate change, or any of the other platform issues at the top of my list. Simply stated, it is because it is at the top of God’s list. In Genesis 12:3 God clearly speaks and say, “I will bless those that bless thee and cruse those that curse thee.” So what does that really mean. History is the greatest teacher and we see a pattern formed staring with Egypt. The Egyptian Empire stood against Israel and God brought an end the powerful Egyptian Empire. In 587 BC The Babylonian Empire ruled over Israel and today there is no Babylonian Empire. From 538-333 BC Israel was ruled by the Persian empire and today there is no Persian Empire. From 333-63 BC Israel was ruled by the Hellenistic or Greek Empire and today there is no Greek Empire. From 63 BC – 313 AD Israel was ruled by the Roman Empire and today there is no Roman Empire. From 313-636 Israel was ruled by the Byzantine Empire and today there is no Byzantine Empire. From 626—1099 Israel was ruled by the Arab Empire and today there is no Arab Empire. From 1099-1291 Israel was ruled by The Crusader’s Empire and today there is no Crusader’s Empire. From 1291-1516 Israel was ruled by the Mamluk Empire and today there is no Mamluk Empire. From 1516—1918 Israel was ruled by the Ottoman Empire and today there is no Ottoman Empire. From 1917-1948 Israel was ruled by the British Empire and today there is no British Empire. Each one and in their own day had amassed great wealth and power and their treatment of God’s people and God’s Covenant Land came to an end. But, yet, God has more to say about Israel. In Zechariah 2 God says, “He who touches Israel touches the apple of his eye.” And in Ezekiel 37:22 God states emphatically, “I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel, and one king will rule over all of them. Then they will no longer be two nations and will never again be divided into two kingdoms.” So what does all this have to do with the upcoming election? Setting aside the other two strongly biblical issues of murder of an unborn child and marriage between a man and a woman and focusing on the only issue of Israel’s sovereignty the record again speaks for itself. God stated emphatically in Joel Chapter 3:2 I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. And I will enter into judgment with them there, on behalf of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations and have divided up my land. In Amos 9:15 I will plant them on their land, and they shall never again be uprooted out of the land that I have given them,” says the Lord your God. Knowing where God stands on these issues gives us a plumb line to measure the platform policies that each candidate is running on.
First let us examine the record and platform promises of the Democrat ticket. These statements were compiled by The Jewish Virtual Library in their piece entitled Views on Israel of U.S. Presidential Candidates 2020:
Joe Biden – many statements would lead you to believe that the Biden/Harris administration would continue in its support of Israel, but further examination of what he has said may paint a different picture. These are direct unedited quotes except where explicatives have been changed into more palatable language”
The United States-Israel Relationship
“I do compliment the president on the [UAE peace] deal with Israel recently.” (ABC Townhall, October 15, 2020)
Regarding peace with the Gulf states: “I think Trump is going to accidentally do something positive here, in terms of this issue of… other Arab states.” (Times of Israel, September 11, 2020)
“Israel should stop expanding West Bank settlements, stop talk of annexation,” Biden said. “Annexation is off the table now, which is a good thing.”
Netanyahu has been “yielding to the far-right of his party to maintain support.” (Haaretz, September 11, 2020)
Speaking following the announcement of the UAE and Israel formalizing relations: “Today, Israel and the United Arab Emirates have taken a historic step to bridge the deep divides of the Middle East. The UAE’s offer to publicly recognize the State of Israel is a welcome, brave, and badly-needed act of statesmanship. And it is a critical recognition that Israel is a vibrant, integral part of the Middle East that is here to stay. Israel can and will be a valued strategic and economic partner to all who welcome it … a Biden-Harris Administration will seek to build on this progress, and will challenge all the nations of the region to keep pace.” (The Hill, August 13, 2020)
During a conversation with Jewish donors, Biden said Washington “cannot fully safeguard Israelis without peace.”
“I do not support annexation,” he said. “Israel needs to stop the threats of annexation and stop settlement activity because it will choke off any hope of peace.”
Biden said annexation would not get a “green light” or recognition from his administration.
“The Palestinians need to end incitement in the West Bank and rocket attacks in Gaza,” Biden said. “What they are teaching in their schools is still in the schoolbooks. No matter what legitimate disagreement they may have with Israel, it’s never a justification for terrorism, and no leader should fail to condemn as terrorists those who commit these brutalities.”
“The Palestinians needs to accept once and for all reality and Israel’s right to have a secure democratic Jewish state in the Middle East. And Israel needs to stop the threats of annexation, stop settlement activity because it will choke off any hope of peace.”
Biden said the Palestinian Authority should “acknowledge, flat-out, Israel’s right to exist — period – as an independent Jewish state and guarantee the borders.”
“I’m going to fully support the Taylor Force Act, which holds aid to the PA based on payments they make to terrorists in Israeli jails.” Biden also said he would restore funding to the Palestinian Authority for security cooperation with Israel.
“I’m going to reverse Trump’s administration steps [that] I think significantly undercut the prospects of peace and restore diplomatic relationships with the Palestinian Authority and assistance to support the Israeli Palestinian security cooperation and economic, humanitarian aid for Palestinian people.”
He said Israel should stop settlement activity, but “we also shouldn’t let the Palestinians off the hook” for issues like incitement and support for terrorism.
Biden assigned blame for the stalled peace process to Palestinian and Israeli leadership which are unwilling to take political risks through direct talks.
“I know Bibi well, for over 40 years,” Biden stated. “This moves [him] so far to the right.” Biden clarified, however, that it “does not justify cutting military assistance to the state of Israel.”
“My commitment to Israel is completely unshakable,” Biden said. “As president, I’m going to continue our security assistance under the historic memorandum of understanding that we signed together in 2016 and maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge. I’m not going to place conditions for the security assistance given the serious threats that Israel is facing, and this would be, I think, irresponsible.” (JewishInsider; Haaretz; Jerusalem Post, May 20, 2020)
A Biden administration would: “Sustain our unbreakable commitment to Israel’s security – including the unprecedented military and intelligence cooperation pioneered during the Obama-Biden administration, and the guarantee that Israel will always maintain its qualitative military edge.”
“Ensure that support for the U.S.-Israel alliance remains bipartisan, reversing Trump’s exploitation of U.S. support for Israel as a political football, which harms both countries’ interests.”
“Support the critical economic and technological partnership between the United States and Israel, and further expand scientific collaborations and increase commercial opportunities.” (Biden President)
Responding to question about the U.S. Embassy: “The move shouldn’t have happened in the context as it did, it should happen in the context of a larger deal to help us achieve important concessions for peace in the process. But now that is done, I would not move the embassy back to Tel Aviv.” (Bloomberg, April 29, 2020)
“We need to sustain our ironclad commitment to Israel’s security.” (Foreign Affairs, March/April 2020)
The New York Times asked each candidate a series of questions related to Israel. Biden said the United States maintain its current level of military aid to Israel, should not move the U.S. embassy from Jerusalem. (New York Times, December 2019)
Responding to the Trump administration’s announcement that it does not consider settlements illegal, Biden’s campaign said, “This decision harms the cause of diplomacy, takes us further away from the hope of a two-state solution, and will only further inflame tensions in the region. It’s not about peace or security. It is not about being pro-Israel. It is about undercutting Israel’s future in service of Trump’s personal politics.” (Times of Israel, November 19, 2019)
“Israel has a right to defend itself against terrorist threats. It is intolerable that Israeli civilians live their lives under the constant fear of rocket attacks. That’s why our administration was such a strong supporter of Israel’s life-saving Iron Dome.” (@JoeBiden, November 12, 2019)
Judy Woodruff: There’s news this week, to the extent that some of the Democrats are saying that, if — because of Israel’s settlements policy, that they would look at cutting off military aid to Israel as a result of that.
Joseph Biden: That would be a tragic mistake.
I strongly oppose Israel’s settlement policy on the West Bank. I have made that clear to Bibi when we were — when I was vice president. I have made it crystal clear to the Israelis. But the idea that we would cut off military aid to an ally, our only true, true ally in the entire region, is absolutely preposterous. It’s just beyond my comprehension anyone would do that.
“There has never been progress in the Middle East without the United States acting as a catalyst. The fact of the matter is that our good offices are important. The fact as the matter is that I would not do anything that I did not coordinate with the Israeli government. I would not pretend to be anything other than we are. Arabs know where we are and all they want to know is that we are going to, in fact, be blanced and fair about it. I think we can still establish that…My point is that we should have some very important person on the ground there, ready to explore all the initiatives, any serious person in the government thinks it might be worth considering. We should be a catalyst here.” (October 5, 2006)
“The single most important thing we could do for Israel right now is to get a political settlement in Iraq. That changes the dynamic, frees up resources for us, frees up our capability and changes the whole game, but we don’t seem to have anyone in this administration that can connect the dots.” (October 5, 2006)
“Because of our lack of a prevention strategy, we’re left with no option here (in the Israel-Lebanon War), in my view, but to support Israel in what is a totally legitimate self-defense effort.” (Washington, July 16, 2006)
In response to Peace with the Palestinians – The Democrat Candidate is quoted as saying”
“Even our brethren in the Arab world… have come to realize that it is in their interest that there be a two-state solution [and] that Israel is able to live in peace and be recognized.”
“[Netanyahu] has undermined the stability of self-determination for the Palestinians, undercutting hope for a viable two-state solution any chance that he gets.”
“Not only do I think Netanyahu’s position is wrong, and that he’s yielding to the far-right of his party to maintain support, but the Palestinian leadership has not stepped up when given real opportunity.”
“[The Palestinians] have to be prepared to stop what’s going on in terms of their education system, railing against Israel in their schools. They’ve got to stop inciting violence and supporting it when it happens.” (Times of Israel, September 11, 2020)
Regarding annexation: “I don’t know how much is off the table in terms of Netanyahu’s notions….Netanyahu knows and the Israelis know my position. I’ve made clear that I’m going to oppose annexation as president…A two-state solution is the only way to ensure Israel’s long-term security while sustaining its Jewish and democratic identity. I don’t know how they do it without a two-state solution. And it’s also the only way to ensure Palestinian rights to a state of their own.” (JewishInsider, September 10, 2020)
“The only way to ensure Israel’s long-term security while sustaining its Jewish and democratic identity. It’s also the only way to ensure Palestinians have a state of their own.”
“I will reengage the Palestinians.” (Haaretz, September 11, 2020)
“I’ll continue to champion the rights of Palestinians and Israelis to have a state of their own — as I have for decades — each of them a state of their own.” (JewishInsider, July 21, 2020)
“A priority now for the cause of Israeli-Palestinian peace should be resuming our dialogue with the Palestinians and pressing Israel not to take actions that make a two-state solution impossible,” Biden said. “I will reopen the U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem, find a way to re-open the PLO’s diplomatic mission in Washington, and resume the decades-long economic and security assistance efforts to the Palestinians that the Trump Administration stopped.” (JTA, May 6, 2020)
A Biden administration would: “Work with the Israeli and Palestinian leadership, and support peacebuilding efforts in the region. Biden will urge Israel and the Palestinian Authority to take steps to keep the prospect of a negotiated two-state outcome alive and take no actions to undercut future direct negotiations between the parties.
Reverse the Trump Administration’s destructive cutoff of diplomatic ties with the Palestinian Authority and cancelation of assistance programs that support Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation, economic development, and humanitarian aid for the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza. Urge Arab states to move beyond quiet talks and take bolder steps toward normalization with Israel.” (Biden President)
“We all need to work together to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, because it is a crisis.”
“And we’re not going to achieve that future if we don’t condemn steps on both sides that take us further from peace.”
“A two-state solution is the best way to ensure a secure and peaceful Israeli future for the Jewish and democratic state of Israel. That’s the goal we all share.”
“Palestinians need to eradicate incitement on the West Bank. Eradicate it. They need to end the rocket attacks from Gaza. Stop it.”
“And Israel, I think, has to stop the threats of annexation and settlement activity, like the recent announcement to build thousands of settlements in E1. That’s going to choke off any hope for peace. And to be frank, those moves are taking Israel further from its democratic values, undermining support for Israel in the United States especially among young people in both political parties.”
“That’s dangerous,” he said. “We can’t let that happen. We can’t let Israel become another issue that divides Republicans and Democrats. We can’t let anything undermine the partnership.”
“Palestinians need to eradicate incitement on the West Bank,” he said. “They need to end the rocket attacks from Gaza. They need to accept once and for all the reality and the right of a secure democratic and Jewish State of Israel in the Middle East.” (AIPAC Policy Conference, March 1, 2020)
Following the release of the Trump administration’s peace plan, Biden tweeted: “A peace plan requires two sides to come together. This is a political stunt that could spark unilateral moves to annex territory and set back peace even more. I’ve spent a lifetime working to advance the security & survival of a Jewish and democratic Israel. This is not the way.” (@JoeBiden, January 28, 2020)
“No nation, including Israel, is immune from legitimate criticism. For example, I have for decades opposed the expansion of settlement activity as counterproductive to peace and damaging to U.S. support for Israel, and I have shared those criticisms directly with Israeli leadership, from Menachem Begin to Bibi Netanyahu. But Israel should never be unfairly singled out or targeted. It’s dangerous. And any action designed to marginalize one ethnic or religious group imperils us all — that’s something the Jewish people know all too well.
I believe a two-state solution is the only path to long-term security for Israel, while sustaining its identity as a Jewish and democratic state. It is also the only way to ensure Palestinian dignity and their legitimate interest in national self-determination. And it is a necessary condition to take full advantage of the opening that exists for greater cooperation between Israel and its Arab neighbors.” (JTA, January 2, 2020)
Trump is “no longer being an honest broker in Israel,” Biden said in the December Democratic debate. “There’s no solution for Israel other than a two-state solution. It does not exist. It’s not possible to have a Jewish state in the Middle East without having a two-state solution.” Biden further stressed that he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu know each other well and is aware that Netanyahu’s conduct on the Israeli-Palestinian issue is “outrageous.” Biden added that the U.S has to “put pressure constantly” on the Israelis to “move to a two-state solution.” But he cautioned that the way to do that should not be by leveraging U.S. military aid. (JewishInsider, December 20, 2019)
“The present course Israel’s on is not one that’s likely to secure its existence as a Jewish, democratic state— and we have to make sure that happens.”
“There is, at the moment, no political will among Israelis and Palestinians to move forward with serious negotiations,”
“No matter what legitimate disagreements the Palestinian people have with Israel, there is never justification for terrorism,” Biden said. “No leader should fail to condemn as terrorists those who commit such brutalities.”
“I firmly believe that the actions that Israel’s government has taken over the past several years — the steady and systematic expansion of settlements, the legalization of outposts, land seizures — they’re moving us and more importantly they’re moving Israel in the wrong direction.” (J Street Gala, April 18, 2016)
The Palestinian-Israeli issue involves the least ideological and least sectarian Arabs in the Middle East.” (J Street Gala, September 28, 2013)
“Israel’s own leaders currently understand the imperative of peace. Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Barak, President Peres — they’ve all called for a two-state solution and an absolute secure, democratic and Jewish State of Israel; to live side by side with an independent Palestinian state. But it takes two to tango, and the rest of the Arab world has to get in the game. We are under no illusions about how difficult it will be to achieve. Even some of you in the audience said, why do we even talk about it anymore? Well, it’s going to require hard steps on both sides. But it’s in all of our interests — Israel’s interest, the United States’ interest, the interest of the Palestinian people. We all have a profound interest in peace.” (AIPAC Policy Conference, March 4, 2013)
“I would do what I called on the Bush Administration to do two years ago – and that it failed to do: urgently support Abbas and Salam Fayad to shore up their position in West Bank and help them deliver real benefits to their constituents. But I would tie our assistance to genuine transparency and accountability.
At the same time, I would work to isolate Hamas. We should not talk to Hamas unless and until they recognize Israel, renounce terrorism and accept past agreements. These are the demands not just of the United States, but of the so-called Quartet: Russia, US, the European Union, and UN.
Hamas has to decide between bullets and ballots – either it lays down its arms and acts democratically, or it continues as a terrorist organization and is treated as such. It cannot have it both ways.
I would seriously talk to our European allies, Israel, Egypt, and Abbas about the possibility of an international force deployed along the Egypt-Gaza border to prevent smuggling of arms into Gaza. I know that Israel is interested in such a force.
I would also support alternatives to Hamas. I would urge Palestinian leaders to reform Fatah, to combat corruption and build efficiency. I would use a $20 million fund that I created last year to promote democratic alternatives at the grass roots in the Palestinian areas – a fund the Administration has never used. And I would press the oil-rich Arab states to do the same.” (Jerusalem Post, July 5, 2007)
“The outcome [of the Palestinian elections] reflects Palestinian anger and frustration at the Palestinian Authority and Fatah for their corruption, mismanagement, and failure to provide law and order.” (January 2006)
The Republican President – Donald J. Trump
Trump held his first meeting with a leader of the Arab world, King Abdullah of Jordan, on February 2, 2016. After the meeting, the White House issued a statement clarifying that while they “don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal.”
Two days after his inauguration Trump had called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss the Iran nuclear issue as well as the regional threat of ISIS. Trump invited the Prime Minister to visit the White House, which he did on February 15, 2017. During a joint press conference with the Prime Minister, the President dropped the historic U.S. commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, stating I’m looking at two states and one state, and… I can live with either one. Appearing to startle the Israeli leader, Trump later suggested that he would like to see [the Israelis] hold back on settlements for a little bit.
Trump also surprised Netanyahu by publicly urging the prime minister to “hold back on settlements for a little bit.” Prior to their meeting, the White House had told Israel to stop announcing new settlements. Press secretary Scott Spicer said, “While we don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal.” To read a full transcript of the joint press conference, please click here.
On May 3, 2017, President Trump hosted Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the White House.
The Washington Post reported on May 15, 2017, that five days earlier Trump had revealed highly classified information in a White House meeting to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak. It was subsequently revealed that the information had been obtained by an Israeli source embedded within ISIS in Syria. Israeli officials feared that the leak could compromise intelligence sources and put Israeli agents in danger.
The administration also declared National Jewish American Heritage Month in May 2017.
President Donald Trump embarked on his first foreign trip as President on May 19, 2017, with plans to visit Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican, and then various European nations on a 9-day trip. On May 21, 2017, Trump arrived in Israel on the first ever direct flight from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to Tel Aviv, and was greeted by a red-carpet ceremony at Ben-Gurion International Airport. After issuing joint statements with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Trump met with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and then toured Jerusalem’s Old City with his entourage. President Trump wore a Yarmulke and prayed at the Western Wall during the afternoon of May 21, 2017, becoming the first sitting President to ever visit the holy site.
During Trump’s visit to Israel he also took time to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem. While initial reports surfaced of a cordial meeting, this was soon disproven by officials with knowledge of the exchange. Trump reportedly screamed at Abbas, saying he had deceived me [Trump] in Washington, after being shown by the Israelis that Abbas personally ha[s] a hand in incitement.
Trump was also furious about the PA’s “pay-for-slay” policy of providing salaries to convicted Palestinian terrorists in Israeli prisons and reiterated the demand he had made at the White House for Abbas to end the practice. Abbas told Trump he would not “stop the allowances of the families of the prisoners and Martyrs (Shahids), and emphasized his absolute support for them (i.e., for the payments).”
In a meeting with Palestinian officials on June 20, 2017, Trump’s envoy Jason Greenblatt reiterated the demand that the Palestinians cease payments to the so-called Martyr’s Fund. A Palestinian official said the meeting did not go well and the request was rejected. Reportedly, the PA increased payments to terrorists and their families in 2018 by nearly $56 million after distributing $347 million in 2017.
In 2018, Trump signed into law the Taylor Force Act, which halted U.S. foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority until Palestinian terrorists and their families cease to be paid.
The Trump administration wasted no time sending a message to the UN that it would no longer tolerate its ally being singled out for condemnation. One of the president’s first appointments, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, blasted the UN’s bias and declared that there “is a new sheriff in town.”
A particular target of Israel and the administration’s wrath is the Human Rights Council, where some of the world’s worst human rights violators pillory Israel and ignore the horrors taking place elsewhere in the world. The Obama administration often protested the absurdity of the council’s positions; nevertheless, it remained a member and opposed efforts to cut funding to the UN. Haley called the Council “corrupt,” and Tillerson warned the U.S. would withdraw from the Council if it does not undertake “considerable reform.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was the first person President Trump met one-on-one with during the United Nations General Assembly in September 2017. Later that month, Trump’s Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, sparked angry reactions from around the globe when he broke with formal U.S. policy and stated that the settlements are a part of Israel. The U.S. State Department clarified that Friedman’s statements did not indicate a shift in policy and should not be used to prejudge negotiations to come.
After weeks of internal debate as to whether to eliminate all UNRWA funding as punishment for opposition to President Trump’s policies, the Trump Administration decided on January 16, 2018, that the U.S. would pledge $60 million to Palestinian refugee programs. This is slightly less than half of what was expected, and according to administration officials the remaining $65 million would be held for future consideration. The following week the U.S. State Department announced that they would be withholding an additional $45 million in food aid pledged the previous month in a separate agreement.
Nikki Haley was one of the strongest advocates for Israel to ever serve as ambassador to the UN. Following her resignation in December 2018, she was briefly replace by Jonathan Cohen. Her permanent successor, Kelly Craft, was not allowed to remain in the Cabinet, and is a much more low-key representative; nevertheless, she immediately established herself as a vigorous defender of Israel as well. In September 2019, for example, she blocked a UN Security Council statement on tensions between Israel and Hezbollah because of its criticism of Israel.
On December 6, 2017, President Trump announced the official U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and the beginning of the process of moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The decision was widely criticized by leaders around the globe as detrimental to the peace process. Every other member of the United Nations Security Council voted in favor of a draft resolution reversing Trump’s decision two weeks later on December 18, but the resolution was vetoed by the United States. The General Assembly subsequently voted overwhelmingly on December 19, 2017, for a resolution implicitly calling on the U.S. to withdraw its recognition of Jerusalem.
Vice President Mike Pence made at two-day visit to Israel in January 2018. Palestinian officials refused to meet with him in protest of the decision on Jerusalem, but he was warmly greeted by Israelis. During the trip, Pence announced the U.S. embassy would be moved to Jerusalem before the end of the year, contradicting earlier State Department statements suggesting the move would be delayed for years until a new building could be constructed. Soon after, the administration announced that it would move the U.S. embassy to the grounds of the consulate in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018, to coincide with the celebration of Israel’s 70th birthday.
The new United States embassy in Jerusalem was opened on May 14, 2018, coinciding with Israel’s independence day. Officials from the Trump administration attended the ceremony, along with representatives from 33 other countries. Noticeably absent were representatives from Western European nations.
The election outcome signaled a change in American policy toward Iran after Trump had repeatedly called the nuclear deal a disaster. In early February 2017, the new administration sanctioned 13 individuals and 12 entities for their support of Iran’s detrimental activities. Trump also announced a review of the Iran deal, which he continued to describe as “one of the worst deals I’ve ever witnessed.”
Under the deal, the State Department must update Congress on Iran’s compliance every 90 days and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson continued to fulfill that obligation in a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan saying that Iran is complying with the terms of the agreement. Tillerson also says, however, that Iran “remains a leading state sponsor of terror, through many platforms and methods” and that Trump had ordered an interagency review to determine whether the deal is “vital to the national security interests of the United States.”
After Trump had warned he would cancel the nuclear deal with Iran, administration officials spent months trying to negotiate an agreement with European allies on how to strengthen the JCPOA to satisfy the president’s concerns. The Europeans were unwilling, however, to make significant changes in the agreement, and were particularly opposed to reimposing sanctions that would threaten their business opportunities in Iran. Consequently, on May 8, 2018, Trump announced the United States would be exiting the nuclear deal
Trump also announced the U.S. would reimpose sanctions lifted as part of the JCPOA and that “no new contracts” with Iran will be permitted. The U.S. Treasury Department said it would halt transactions in Iranian government debt or currency, and purchases involving the country’s automobile sector within 90 days. Deals involving Iran’s oil and energy sector, shipping and ports, would be banned within 180 days. Individuals and entities that were delisted from sanctions will be re-designated.
In subsequent months, the administration imposed additional sanctions with the objective of bringing Iran back to the negotiating table and allowing the international community to forge a deal that will prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon and stop its other destabilizing activities. The day after withdrawing from the agreement, Trump warned if Iran resumed its nuclear program, there would be “very severe consequences.”
European Union leaders met with their Iranian counterparts to reassure them they would do what they could to protect the JCPOA from the effects of the sanctions. Trump warned, however, that “any nation that helps Iran in its quest for nuclear weapons could also be strongly sanctioned by the United States.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo added later: “We understand that our reimposition of sanctions and the coming pressure campaign on the Iranian regime will pose financial and economic difficulties for a number of our friends. Indeed, it imposes economic challenges to America as well. These are markets our businesses would love to sell into as well. And we want to hear their concerns. But we will hold those doing prohibited business in Iran to account.”
The decision to withdraw from the deal was met with widespread criticism from many foreign policy experts, former Obama administration officials and some nuclear proliferation analysts. A poll published by Politico also indicated the American public was split on the decision (40-37 percent opposed pulling out in response to one question but, when worded differently, respondents approved by a 42-40 percent margin) and most felt it made both the United States and Israel less safe.
Meanwhile, America’s Middle Eastern allies expressed enthusiastic support for the U.S. announcement. Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, and Bahrain all pointed out the flaws in the agreement and hailed Trump’s decision.
Trump also sent a message to Tehran when he ordered air strikes in April 2017 and 2018 against targets in Syria which President Bashar Assad had used to launch chemical weapons attacks. By demonstrating that he was willing to use military force when red lines were crossed, Trump put the Iranians on notice that they could not count on using the nuclear agreement as a shield against an American response to their provocations.
In May 2019, tensions between the United States and Iran escalated as American intelligence indicated an increased threat to U.S. interests. American forces were moved to the region and there was heightened concern that the two countries were headed for war. “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran,” Trump tweeted on May 19, 2019. “Never threaten the United States again!” He added in an interview with Fox News, “I don’t want to fight. But you do have situations like Iran, you can’t let them have nuclear weapons — you just can’t let that happen.”
The same month, Trump said, “We’re not looking for regime change. I want to make that clear…We’re looking for no nuclear weapons.” He added, “I do believe Iran would like to talk, and if they’d like to talk, we’ll talk also. . . . Nobody wants to see terrible things happen, especially me.”
Asked about his views on Iran during his state visit to Britain, Trump said, there’s a “chance” he will order military actions against Iran, but stated, “I’d much rather talk” with Iranian leaders. “There’s always a chance [for military action]. Do I want to? No. I’d rather not. But there’s always a chance.”
Before meeting with French President Macron in June 2019, Trump said, “The one thing that [Iran] can’t have is they can’t have nuclear weapons. And I think the President of France would agree with that very strongly. I think that he would agree that they cannot have nuclear weapons.”
Israelis became concerned when they learned in September 2019 Trump was considering easing sanctions on Iran and meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. In his memoir, Bolton said he and Secretary of State Pompeo lobbied Trump not to attend the meeting arranged by French President Emmanuel Macron. Trump ultimately did not go, which pleased the Israelis, but they later lost Bolton as an ally inside the administration when he was fired by the president.
Iran’s economy has been decimated by U.S. sanctions, but Iran’s policies have not changed. It has remained hostile toward the United States, committed to developing ballistic missiles and sponsoring terror, and creating a land bridge to the Mediterranean. Iran has also continued to destabilize the region by its involvement in supporting rebels in Yemen and backing Bashar Assad’s forces in Syria.
Worse, from Israel’s perspective, Iran is attempting to establish bases in Syria from which it can attack Israel and provide logistical support to Hezbollah. Iran also had not ceased its pursuit of a nuclear weapon, which had continued after signing the nuclear agreement thanks, in part, to its loopholes. Those covert actions were supplemented by the overt flouting of the terms of the agreement. In early June 2020, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) disclosed that Iran’s total stockpile of low-enriched uranium exceeded the amount allowed under the agreement, that Iran had increased the purity of the uranium it is enriching to 4.5%, violating the agreement’s limit of 3.67%, and that it was denied access to two locations that could be used for storing or processing nuclear material.
At a fundraiser in August 2020, Trump said if he was reelected, “we will have a deal with Iran within four weeks.”
Chuck Freilich, a former deputy Israeli national security adviser concluded, “The bottom line, from Israel’s perspective, is that its overall strategic situation vis-a-vis Iran has deteriorated severely under Trump. Iran is closer to a bomb, Israel is surrounded by Iran and its proxies, and increasingly likely to find itself standing essentially alone in the confrontation with Tehran.
The Trump Administration released a National Security Strategy paper on December 18, 2017, featuring a section detailing the administration’s regional Middle East Strategy.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with President Trump on March 5, 2018. Netanyahu thanked the president for his support, and specifically the recognition of Jerusalem, but the main focus of their meeting was mutual concerns about Iran.
On March 13, 2018, the U.S. hosted a conference with the goal of addressing the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. Enraged by President Trump’s decision to unilaterally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the Palestinians rejected an invitation to the conference, which was attended by representatives from 19 nations, including Israel and all of the Arab Gulf states.
On March 25, 2019, Trump announced the United States would recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Some observers believed the timing of the announcement was meant to help Netanyahu’s reelection campaign. A subsequent visit by Pompeo days before the election reinforced this perception as did the administration’s silence following Netanyahu’s campaign remark about annexing the settlements and its decision to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization.
Trump tweeted his reaction to Hamas rocket attacks on Israel in May 2019: “Once again, Israel faces a barrage of deadly rocket attacks by terrorist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad,” the president said on Twitter. “We support Israel 100% in its defense of its citizens. To the Gazan people — these terrorist acts against Israel will bring you nothing but more misery. END the violence and work towards peace — it can happen!”
In a move many criticized as interfering in Israel’s electoral process, Trump tweeted while Netanyahu was working to form a coalition government, “Hoping things will work out with Israel’s coalition formation and Bibi and I can continue to make the alliance between America and Israel stronger than ever. A lot more to do!”
Netanyahu was unable to form a government and Israel was forced to schedule another one for September 17, 2019. Trump was not happy about the development. “Israel is all messed up with their election — I mean, that came out of the blue three days ago. So that’s all messed up. They ought to get their act together,” Trump said. “I mean, Bibi [Netanyahu] got elected, now all of a sudden they’re going to have to go through the process again until September. That’s ridiculous. So we’re not happy about that.”
In August 2019, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Israel to strengthen the global partnership in development between the two countries.
In November 2019, following the inconclusive election in Israel, Trump said, “They keep having elections and nobody gets elected.” He joked that he has a “98 percent approval rating in Israel,” and that “if anything happens here, I’m taking a trip to Israel — I’ll be prime minister there.” He added, “They’re all fighting and fighting each other. Here we have other kinds of fighting, but at least we know who the boss is.”
Commenting on the flareup of violence during which Palestinian Islamic Jihad fired rockets into Israel, Trump said, “It’s crazy, missiles are flying and Israel is shooting back.”
After months of deliberating and planning, the administration was expected to finally unveil its peace plan after the April 2019 election in Israel. When Netanyahu was unable to form a government, however, and a new election was called for September the timeline changed. As was the case before April, Trump did not want to release the plan out of concern it might impact the election.
In the short-run, the administration planned to go ahead with a conference in Bahrain on June 25-26, 2019, to discuss the economic elements of the plan. The Palestiinans immediately announced they would boycott the meeting and lobbied Arab governments to do the same.
Meanwhile, Pompeo reinforced widespread skepticism of the plan when he told a group of Jewish leaders the administration peace plan “may be rejected,” Trump responded on June 2, 2019, “Look, we’re doing our best to help the Middle East to get a peace plan, and he [Pompeo] may be right. I mean, most people would say that,” he said. “But if we can get a Mideast peace plan that would be good. And when Mike says that, I understand when he says that, because most people think it can’t be done. I think it probably can. But as I say often, we’ll see what happens.”
In what some analysts viewed as an effort to aid Netanyahu’s campaign just three days before the Israeli election, Trump said on September 14, 2019, he discussed a possible “mutual defense treaty” between the U.S. and Israel in a call with the prime minister. He tweeted, the potential deal would “further anchor the tremendous alliance between our two countries.” He added that he looked forward to “continuing those discussions after the Israeli Elections when we meet at the United Nations later this month!”
On January 28, 2020, the much anticipated peace plan was released during Netanyahu’s visit to Washington. The Prime Minister welcomed the initiative, which received a mixed reception in the American Jewish community. Several left-leaning organizations denounced it because the Palestinians were not involved in its formulation and the conception of a two-state solution is dramatically different from past peace plans. Even some on the right were critical of its call for the creation of a Palestinian state with its capital in a part of Jerusalem. Some liked that Israel would be allowed to annex about 30 percent of the West Bank and that no settlements would have to be evacuated, but were less happy with the proposed four-year freeze on the establishment of new communities. No one was entirely satisfied, but the president’s supporters generally viewed the plan as consistent with his pro-Israel positions while his detractors saw it as a case of interfering in Israel’s upcoming election for the benefit of Netanyahu.
Following the Israeli election in March 2020, Netanyahu announced plans to unilaterally apply sovereignty to some or all the Jewish communities in the West Bank as early as July 1. He was encouraged by U.S. Ambassador David Friedman, but Jared Kushner was reportedly advising Israel not to move ahead and Netanyahu complied. Then, in In a dramatic and unexpected joint announcement by the United States, Israel, and the UAE on August 13, 2020, Israel and the UAE “agreed to the full normalization of relations.” In addition, the statement said, “As a result of this diplomatic breakthrough, and at the request of President Trump with the support of the United Arab Emirates, Israel will suspend declaring sovereignty over areas outlined in the President’s Vision for Peace and focus its efforts now on expanding ties with other countries in the Arab and Muslim world.”
The UAE emphasized the point regarding the suspension of sovereignty in an effort to demonstrate it had not totally abandoned the Palestinian cause. The UAE also reportedly secured a commitment from the administration that the United States will not recognize Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank until at least 2024. Though this would not obligate a Biden administration to do the same, the former Vice President has said he opposed Israeli annexation so it is likely he would not abrogate the promise.
Winning this concession from Israel did not prevent the Palestinians from lambasting the agreement. The Palestinian Authority condemned the agreement as “a betrayal of Jerusalem” and an “aggression against the Palestinian people.” Hamas called it “cowardly” and “a blatant assault on our religious, national, and historical rights in Palestine, a treacherous stab in the back of the Palestinian people and their resistance forces, and a miserable attempt to influence their struggle and resistance path aimed defeating the occupation.”
Reports suggested Trump personally had little or nothing to do with the agreement and that Kushner played the major role on the U.S. side. UAE-Israel relations had already been steadily improving and other reports indicated a representative of the Mossad was instrumental in brokering the final deal. Nevertheless, Trump reaped the benefits of appearing to have pulled off a major foreign policy accomplishment in facilitating a peace agreement between Israel and a third Arab country.
“You’re going to end up with peace in the Middle East, real peace in the Middle East,” Trump said afterward. “Now, by the way, UAE was the leader and they signed the first one and now all of the countries, almost all, are calling, ‘Well what about us? We want to sign too.’”
“It’s an incredible thing for Israel,” he concluded. “It’s incredible for the evangelicals by the way, the evangelicals love Israel. Love Israel. So we’re doing things that nobody else would do or could do.”
One matter of controversy emerged after the announcement of the Abraham Accords regarding the possible sale of F-35 stealth fighters to the UAE. It was initially reported that Netanyahu acquiesced to the sale, seeing it as the price of the agreement, but he later denied such a quid pro quo.
There is a precedent for such a deal. Following the signing of the peace treaty with Egypt, Israel dropped objections to the sale of fighter planes to Egypt. This case is different, however, because the F-35 is the most advanced fighter plane in the world and, though Israel already has them, Israeli officials, members of Congress, and some analysts argued the sale would erode Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME) in the region.
The president faces a dilemma. By selling the planes, the United States would get billions of dollars that would help the economy, create jobs, and benefit his reelection campaign. Simultaneously, it would upset the Israelis and their supporters and offset some of the goodwill created by the Accords, though they may not try to block the sale to avoid angering the president. The sale also could potentially violate the law that requires Israel’s QME to be maintained, though it is likely the administration would argue that Israel’s edge remains intact.
Fulfilling Trump’s prediction that other countries would follow the UAE’s example, he announced on September 11, 2020, that Bahrain had also agreed to establish diplomatic relations with Israel.
On September 15, 2020, President Trump hosted the signing ceremony for the Abraham Accords. The President, Prime Minister Netanyahu, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani signed a declaration expressing their common interests. Trump, Netanyahu, and Al Nahyan signed a UAE-Israel peace treaty and Trump, Netanyahu, and Al Zayani signed a Bahrain-Israel peace agreement.
On November 18, 2019, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo announced a shift in U.S. policy on settlements. He said, “The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not per se inconsistent with international law.” Pompeo acknowledged a legal opinion that the settlements were illegal was expressed during the Carter administration. He noted that Ronald Reagan rejected this opinion. Pompeo also recalled that his predecessor had referred to them as illegal, but the Trump administration agreed with the Reagan interpretation. Prime Minister Netanyahu and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Friedman signed an agreement on October 27, 2020, extending the United States and Israel’s scientific cooperation to apply to Israeli institutions in the West Bank and the Golan Heights. The deal removed geographic restrictions on funding from the Binational Science Foundation (BSF), the Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation (BIRD), and the Binational Agricultural Research and Development Fund (BARD) which previously were not allowed to sponsor projects in “areas which came under the administration of the Government of Israel after June 5, 1967” and related “to subjects primarily pertinent to such areas.”
Prof. Eugene Kontorovich of George Mason Law School said, “This is really quite momentous. It is the first time the U.S. has adopted a policy that explicitly and clearly authorizes the use of funds across the green line… It’s a very strong recognition that settlements are not illegal.” Furthermore, he said, it sends “send an important message that science has no borders, and you can’t politicize science.”
In June 2020, the administration announced sanctions against the International Criminal Court (ICC). Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, the United States is “also gravely concerned about the threat the court poses to Israel. The ICC is already threatening Israel with an investigation of so-called war crimes committed by its forces and personnel in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. Given Israel’s robust civilian and military legal system and strong track record of investigating and prosecuting wrongdoing by military personnel, it’s clear the ICC is only putting Israel in its crosshairs for nakedly political purposes. It’s a mockery of justice.”
Pompeo acknowledged receiving letters from a bipartisan group of 69 senators and 262 House members urging him to call on the International Criminal Court to halt its “politically motivated” investigations of Israel and the United States. “That’s what the U.S. is dead set on doing, and with good reason,” Pompeo declared. “They’re a trusted and wonderful partner and a buttress of American security. If a rogue court can intimidate our friend or any other ally into abrogating its right to self-defense, that puts Americans at risk as well.”
The administration expressed opposition to China’s involvement in construction in the ports of Haifa and Ashdod. In May 2020, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew to Jerusalem to deliver the message that Israel should stop all Chinese investment in Israel, either in high tech companies or infrastructure. According to Breaking Defense, Israeli officials said Pompeo warned Israel “to stop any action that strengthens the Chinese Communist Party, even if that means canceling projects already planned.”
Pompeo said, “We don’t want the Chinese Communist Party to have access to Israeli infrastructure and to Israeli communication systems – all of the things that put Israeli citizens at risk… We think these risks are very real, and we share information about that,” he said.
Following U.S. pressure against allowing China to participate in infrastructure projects, Israel decided to award an Israeli group a contract to build the world’s largest desalination plant.
In December 2019, Trump approved the 2020 budget, which included $3.8 billion in U.S. security assistance to Israel and $500 million for U.S.-Israel missile defense cooperation, as outlined in the 2016 U.S.-Israel Memorandum of Understanding.
In March 2020, the Department of Defense announced plans to sell KC-46 Pegasus aerial refueling aircraft to Israel. In July, the Trump administration agreed to provide Israel with 990 million gallons of diesel and gasoline for ground vehicles, and jet fuel for aircraft at a cost of $3 billion. The expense of the fuel will be covered by U.S. aid money given to Israel. On American Jews, Anti-Semitism, Democrats, and Israel
“I have to say this, whatever you can do in terms of November 3 is going to be very important because if we don’t win, Israel is in big trouble,”
“We’re in the Middle East because of Israel.”
“This is really a time that’s very important in the life of Israel and the safety of Israel. And we will do a great job. If the other side gets in all bets are off. I think it’ll be a whole different story. I think it’ll be exactly the opposite.”
“I remember Bibi coming over and begging him, begging him [Obama] to a point of humiliation that please don’t do the Iran deal. He did it. I broke it, but he did it. And yet the Democrats get 75 percent sort of like habit. It’s automatic. I hope you can do better with that. I hope you can explain to people what’s going on.”
“Which really amazes me, and I have to tell you, because I saw a poll that in the last election, I got 25 percent of the Jewish vote and I said here I have a son-in-law and a daughter who are Jewish, I have beautiful grandchildren that are Jewish. I have all of these incredible achievements. I’m amazed that it seems to be almost automatically a Democrat.” (JTA, September 16, 2020)
“When I took office, the Middle East was in total chaos. ISIS was rampaging, Iran was on the rise, and the war in Afghanistan had no end in sight. I withdrew from the terrible, one-sided Iran Nuclear Deal. Unlike many presidents before me, I kept my promise, recognized Israel’s true capital and moved our Embassy to Jerusalem. But not only did we talk about it as a future site, we got it built. Rather than spending $1 billion on a new building as planned, we took an already owned existing building in a better location, and opened it at a cost of less than $500,000. We also recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and this month we achieved the first Middle East peace deal in 25 years.” (Speech at Republican National Convention, August 27, 2020)
“I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life.” (Vanity Fair, December 9, 2019)
“The Jewish state has never had a better friend in the White House than your president, Donald J. Trump.”
“You’ve got to be very careful, make no mistake, radical lawmakers who support the BDS movement are advancing anti-Israel and anti-Semitic propaganda. My administration strongly opposes this despicable rhetoric, and as long as I am your president, it makes no difference, it is not happening.”
“I don’t think they [the Obama administration] liked Israel too much, I’m sorry. After eight years of which our alliance was undermined and neglected, I am happy to report the United States-Israeli relationship is stronger now than ever before.”
“Thank you to Wayne Allyn Root for the very nice words. ‘President Trump is the greatest President for Jews and for Israel in the history of the world, not just America, he is the best President for Israel in the history of the world…and the Jewish people in Israel love him….like he’s the King of Israel. They love him like he is the second coming of God…But American Jews don’t know him or like him. They don’t even know what they’re doing or saying anymore. It makes no sense! But that’s OK, if he keeps doing what he’s doing, he’s good for……….all Jews, Blacks, Gays, everyone. And importantly, he’s good for everyone in America who wants a job.’ Wow!” (@realDonaldTrump. August 21, 2019)
Regarding Israel barring two congresswomen from entering Israel because of their support for BDS: “I’m talking about all four but these two that want to get in Omar and Tlaib. And I think it would be a very bad thing for Israel but Israel has to do what they want to do, but I would not cut off aid to Israel, and I can’t even believe that we’re having this conversation. Five years ago, the concept of even talking about this, even three years ago, of cutting off aid to Israel because of two people that hate Israel and hate Jewish people. I can’t believe we’re even having this conversation. Where is the Democratic Party gone, where have they gone, where they’re defending these two people over the state of Israel. And I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat. I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.” (Fox News, August 20, 2019)
“On my first trip overseas as President, I visited the Holy Land of Israel. I was deeply moved and amazed by what this small country had achieved in the face of overwhelming odds and never-ending threats. The State of Israel comprises only a miniscule amount of land in the Middle East and yet it has become a thriving center of democracy, innovation, culture, and commerce.”
“Israel is a light unto the world. The hearts and history of our people are woven together. The Land of Israel is an ancient home, a sacred place of worship, and a solemn promise to the Jewish people that we will never again repeat history’s darkest hour.”
“As everyone knows, I have done a lot for Israel: moving the United States Embassy to Jerusalem; recognizing –recognizing the Golan Heights – and, frankly, perhaps most importantly, getting out of the terrible Iran nuclear deal….Therefore, it is only reasonable that I have to do a lot for the Palestinians, or it just wouldn’t be fair.” (The White House, January 28, 2020)
These are the quoted statements from both sides. Will this nation remain under the blessings of Genesis 12:3 or will we make a move against God’s sovereign word to divide His Covenant Land? This to me is the largest issue in this campaign and will determine if America will join the long list of great empires who have fallen due to their position on Israel and God’s Word concerning Israel. It is time for you to make the call. For Zion’s sake you cannot be silent. Vote on Tuesday!
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