Trump’s Call for Israel to ‘Finish Up’ War Alarms Conservatives

Trump’s Call for Israel to ‘Finish Up’ War Alarms Conservatives

Two Israeli journalists traveled to Palm Beach, Florida, just over a week ago, hoping to elicit strong support from Donald J. Trump for their country’s war in Gaza.

Instead, one of them wrote that what they heard from Mr. Trump at Mar-a-Lago “shocked us to the core.”

“Both US presidential candidates, Biden and Trump, are rhetorically turning their backs on Israel,” concluded Ariel Kahana, a right-wing settler and senior diplomatic correspondent for Israel Hayom. The newspaper is owned by billionaire Republican donor Miriam Adelson; Ms. Adelson herself arranged the interview with Mr. Trump, according to a person with direct knowledge of the planning.

What had Mr. Trump said that so worried Mr. Kahana?

He told interviewers that Israel was losing public support for its Gaza attack, that the images of devastation were bad for Israel’s global image and that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should end his war soon – statements that sounded much more like something President Biden might say, as if something President Biden would say would be the kind of encouragement that Mr. Netanyahu has come to expect from Republicans in Washington.

“You must end your war,” Mr. Trump said. “You have to do it. We must find peace. We can’t allow something like this to happen.”

That statement apparently troubled Mr. Kahana even more than Mr. Biden’s warnings to Israel. Mr. Biden has called for a six-week ceasefire in exchange for Hamas releasing Israeli hostages. In interview excerpts published by Israel Hayom, Mr. Trump did not limit his call for Israel to end the war by insisting on the release of hostages.

“Trump virtually bypassed Biden from the left when he expressed his willingness to end this war and return to the great country you once were,” Mr. Kahana wrote. “There is no way to sugarcoat, downplay or cover up this problematic message.”

Trump aides insisted this was a misinterpretation. A campaign spokeswoman, Karoline Leavitt, said that Mr. Trump “fully supports Israel’s right to defend itself and eliminate the terrorist threat” but that Israel’s interests “would be best served if this mission were carried out quickly, decisively.” and humanely as possible.” The region can return to peace and stability.”

But there is no getting around the division between Mr. Trump and congressional Republicans, who appear to be competing to see who can more demonstratively express support for Mr. Netanyahu’s government. They are flying to Israel to meet with Mr. Netanyahu and plan to invite him to speak to Congress. They generally call on Israel to do whatever is necessary and for as long as necessary to destroy Hamas.

By contrast, Mr. Trump’s understated comment to Israel Hayom is just the latest in a long line of public statements he has made to undermine Mr. Netanyahu, whom he still has not forgiven for voting Mr. Biden the winner of the 2020 election congratulate.

In 2021, Mr. Trump told Axios journalist Barak Ravid that he had concluded that Mr. Netanyahu “never wanted peace” with the Palestinians.

Mr. Trump’s initial response to the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attack was to criticize Mr. Netanyahu and the Israeli intelligence services. Aides privately asked him to clean up his comments, and he quickly turned to the usual lines of support for Israel’s right to defend itself.

The ambiguity of Mr. Trump’s rhetoric about the Israel-Hamas war has led to different audiences hearing what they want in his public statements. He hasn’t said anything substantive about what he would do differently on Israel policy than Mr. Biden would if he were president, and his team again declined to go into details when asked by The New York Times.

Given this emptiness, right-wing supporters of Israel and Israelis like Mr. Kahana are analyzing Mr. Trump’s every statement, fearing that he may not be as reliable an ally in a second term as he was in his first term, when he stepped down. Mr. Netanyahu fulfilled almost everything, what he wanted, including moving the US embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

“Those who support Trump and also deeply support Israel’s efforts to win the war with Hamas must come to terms with the fact that the administration appears to be speaking out of both sides of its mouth and making sense at a crucial moment. “Given the instability in the relationship between the United States and Israel, Trump has exacerbated that instability as the presumptive nominee of the other party,” said John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary magazine and former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan.

“The only difference between Trump and Biden – and I say this as someone who is not a Biden supporter – is that Biden walks his talk. He sent weapons,” Mr. Podhoretz added. “So this seems to suggest that the operational problem with Biden is rhetoric, not policy. And all Trump is is rhetoric, and he doesn’t lay out policies that should make anyone feel good.”

Mr. Trump’s former ambassador to Israel, David M. Friedman, insisted in an interview that people had misunderstood Mr. Trump’s statements.

While he said he respected Mr. Kahana, Mr. Friedman suggested that the reporter had overinterpreted Mr. Trump’s remarks: “I understand the fear of Republican isolationism, because there is a vein within the Republican Party that goes in that direction , but I didn’t hear him say what he said. I heard him say, “Finish the job” – which meant defeating Hamas, defeating it decisively, defeating it as quickly as possible. And then move on.”

Some of Mr. Trump’s former advisers have filled the Trump policy vacuum with their own ideas for resolving the conflict. His son-in-law Jared Kushner, who pursued foreign deals using relationships he developed during the Trump administration, said at a Harvard University forum in February that “Gaza’s waterfront property could be very valuable” and that Palestinians would be “displaced.” should be. and transported to an area in the Negev Desert in southern Israel that was to be bulldozed to house them.

Mr. Friedman has gone much further than Mr. Kushner, who only seemed to ponder. Mr Friedman has developed a proposal for Israel to claim full sovereignty over the West Bank – thereby definitively eliminating the possibility of a two-state solution. West Bank Palestinians who have lived under Israeli military occupation since 1967 would not receive Israeli citizenship under the plan, Mr. Friedman confirmed in the interview.

It is far from clear whether Mr. Trump would support this, although he told Israeli interviewers that he planned to meet with Mr. Friedman to hear his ideas. Mr. Friedman said he had not yet discussed his plan with Mr. Trump.

Unlike Mr. Friedman, Mr. Trump has long clung to the possibility of a major deal between Israel and the Palestinians, insisting that only he can negotiate the “deal of the century.” Yet Mr. Trump’s behavior during his time in office was so one-sided in favor of Israel that a two-state solution acceptable to the Palestinians was never realistic.

John R. Bolton, a former national security adviser to Mr. Trump who has become a harsh critic, said that Mr. Trump’s interview with Israel Hayom “proves the point that I’ve been trying to make to people: that Trump supports Israel.” in the first term is not guaranteed in the second term because Trump’s positions are formulated based on what is good for Donald Trump, not on a coherent theory of national security.”

“What he said in this recent interview was ambiguous to a certain extent, but it seemed to me almost negative about Israel’s conduct of the war,” Mr. Bolton said in an interview. “And I think there’s more to it than meets the eye.”

“What matters to Trump more than anything is how you look in the press. So forget about justice,” he added. “It just looks bad.”

The way Mr. Bolton sees it, when his former boss warns Mr. Netanyahu that his image is failing, “he’s not worried about Israel’s image. He’s worried about his own when he has to defend it.”

Jonathan Weisman contributed reporting.

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2024-04-02 11:23:26