A year or so ago in this space — or what feels like a year — I predicted that it would be only a matter of time before U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be annoying the hell out of one another, and that anyone who believed that Trumpland would produce a dramatic improvement in the U.S.-Israeli relationship ought to lie down and wait quietly until the feeling passed. After all, that’s been the traditional pattern in relations between Republican presidents and Likud prime ministers; I just figured sooner or later these two willful, suspicious, and brittle egos were bound to clash over something, most likely because Netanyahu would overplay his hand in some provocative policy toward the Palestinians.
Clearly unlike Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny, I was not “dead on balls accurate;” at least so far, I’ve been dead wrong.
As Netanyahu and Trump met Monday at the United Nations General Assembly for the third time in the president’s first eight months — a first in the history of U.S.-Israeli relations — even I’m a little stunned by how the relationship has blossomed seemingly without serious disruption and complication.
So where did I wander off the highway? And what, if anything, might change in what appears to be not just an extended honeymoon but a pretty happy marriage?
Changing the channel
Trump may be unpredictable on many issues, but when it comes to the U.S.-Israeli relationship he’s been preternaturally and consistently pro-Netanyahu, supporting a tough-minded, right-wing government more or less across the board and avoiding fights and unpleasantness. Trump is the first U.S. president to visit Israel so early in his term, the first to pray at the Western Wall, the first in decades to refuse to endorse Palestinian statehood,the first to declare in a White House statement his intention to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, and the first to appoint as U.S. ambassador a longtime supporter of settlements — David Friedman, who recently publicly referred to the “alleged” occupation of the West Bank.
Only twice can I recall such head-spinning transitions — Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush to Bill Clinton — where successors willfully went about profoundly improving both the style and substance of their predecessors’ relations with Israel. Tensions later surfaced, but whether that is likely under Trump is not at all clear. Nothing on the horizon suggests it….