On December 3, 2015, the fourteen Republican presidential candidates lined up to speak to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Washington, DC. Almost all of them offered “red meat” to the crowd, denouncing the terrible foreign policies of current President Barack Obama with the assistance of his Secretaries of State, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry.
One of the foreign policy points that they discussed was the status of Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is often mentioned during campaign season by both Democrats and Republicans. The two main talking points are:
- Jerusalem is the united capital of Israel (no recognition of a divided city)
- As president, the candidate will move the US embassy to Jerusalem
As a presidential candidate, Senator Obama made these same comments in front of a crowd at an AIPAC conference in 2008, only to reverse his comments the next day. By the time he ran for re-election in 2012, he gutted the entire pro-Israel agenda from the Democratic platform. In seven years in office, his two comments proved meaningless.
At the 2015 RJC event, almost all of the Republican candidates mentioned Jerusalem in prepared remarks, while some repeated the two policy points above when responding to questions from RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks. Except for Donald Trump.
Trump, seemingly ever-desirous of inflaming passions, refused to give the crowd the same responses that all of the other candidates proffered. For that he was booed by the crowd, which, not surprisingly (based on his campaign to-date), did not seem to bother the candidate that much.
Campaign Promises versus Delivery of Actions
Presidential candidates always throw out promises to potential voters and donors. The fact that candidates from both parties state positions popular with an audience is as natural to the political process as lying is to politicians.
So reporters take note of the arrogant presidential front-runner who prides himself in “telling it like it is.”
As no president ever moved the US embassy to Jerusalem despite promises to pro-Israel groups during campaign season, is Trump just “telling it like it is?” Or is it simply his abrasive personality that cannot help upsetting audiences, whether they be black, Hispanic or Jewish?
There is more than that to extract from Trump’s comments. At the RJC, he quipped to the Jewish crowd “I’m a negotiator like you folks…Is there anyone in this room who doesn’t negotiate deals? Probably more than any room I’ve ever spoken.”
Putting aside Trump’s anti-Semitic stereotypes in a room that included many doctors and people outside of the business world, it underscored the entire Trump campaign: vote for me, since I’m a successful negotiator. Being the president of the United States is really just about negotiating deals – whether with Iran or Congress. As such, I like to leave my options open, and be unpredictable. That’s what makes me a great negotiator. Don’t pin me down in advance about what I will do, as it hurts the ultimate outcome.
Trump has approached every campaign opportunity with a simple tagline: Trust Me. I’m a Billionaire. I do Great Deals.
However, Trump failed to internalize in his address to “fellow negotiators,” that Israel just doesn’t want a peace deal, it wants actual long-term peace.
A Peace Deal versus Long-Term Peace
A deal comes about when two sides agree on terms. Typically, each side gives a little to arrive at a compromise. In a situation where the two parties do not have the same power or requirement to consummate a deal, the exchange will not be a 50-50 compromise. The party with greater leverage typically uses that leverage to extract better terms. The party that is more desperate for a deal, usually caves on key items.
In Trump’s world of deals, he sees a more powerful Israel and a more desperate Palestinian population. As such, he is confident that he can deliver a “good deal” to the Israelis, even while he won’t promise any particular move in advance regarding Jerusalem.
The crowd at the RJC does know some things about negotiating deals. One of the key requirements is having a real negotiating partner. Not just a counter-party, who, as Senator Rubio stated, “acknowledges Israel’s right to exist,” but can actually deliver a deal. Part of the crowd’s disappointment with the Obama administration is its continued hypocrisy of forcing Israel to negotiate with a straw man with no authority or power in acting PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
Further, as analyzed in detail, in The Arguments for Jerusalem, there is virtually no argument to support Palestinians’ claim for part of Jerusalem, other than sheer desire. Part of securing long-term peace means securing Jerusalem.
Lastly, Israel feels alone and vulnerable. The various anti-Israel United Nations resolutions and BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) proposals around the world feed the feeling of Israel’s isolation. The Iranian deal produced by the Obama administration instilled tremendous fear of an existential threat to both the Jewish state and the Jewish people. The terror attacks by Palestinian Arabs and anti-Semitic vitriol from the Palestinian leadership make Israel feel that there will never be peace.
Trump understood that the RJC reflects a powerful group that is strongly supportive an increasingly powerful Jewish State. But he failed to understand that the Jews in that room included Holocaust survivors and people who walked away from the Twin Towers on 9/11. Those people are not just looking for a “good deal.” They want support and true long-term peace.
It was not only Trump’s refusal to mention the Jerusalem points above that got him booed. Trump’s focus on the “Art of the Deal” instead of understanding that a peace deal is not the same things as true long-term peace will make him an increasingly difficult choice for Israel supporters.
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