Middle East Expert: Trump Victory Might Make Lame-Duck Obama Feel ‘Less Encumbered’ About Pushing Ahead With End-of-Term Israeli-Palestinian Diplomatic Initiative
Republican Donald Trump’s shocking victory over his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton in Tuesday’s presidential election could make outgoing President Barack Obama feel “less encumbered” about launching an end-of-term lame-duck Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic initiative, a Middle East expert told The Algemeiner on Wednesday.
Jonathan Schanzer — vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) think tank in Washington, DC — emphasized, however, that it was still unclear what, if anything, Obama would do in the Israeli-Palestinian realm before Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20.
“We know that the president has been weighing options,” Schanzer said in an interview with The Algemeiner. “We’re not aware of any plans that he has to act on any of the menu items that have been presented to him. At the end of the day, we simply don’t know what he is thinking. We don’t know whether he is close or if he’s already made these decisions.”
An unnamed senior official at an American Jewish organization told The Algemeiner on Wednesday that Trump’s election “makes it likely that Obama will rush to lock in his out-of-the-mainstream legacy, on everything from Israel to Iran.”
In a recent pre-election video interview with the Wall Street Journal, Schanzer said Obama was considering six different “punitive measures” aimed at “score settling” with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Obama’s choices, Schanzer said, ranged from “recognizing a Palestinian state to a UN Security Council resolution that details parameters for the peace process, or perhaps…even more likely, a UN Security Council resolution against settlements.”
“If those fail,” Schanzer continued, “then we think that there could be a Rose Garden speech or some other parameters speech that the president delivers in the last several months of his presidency. They’re also apparently weighing the option of sanctions, or at least barring organizations that support settlements through IRS regulations.”
Speaking with The Algemeiner on Wednesday, Schanzer said that, for Obama, a non-binding White House speech on parameters for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal or a Security Council resolution against settlements remain the two most feasible options.
If Clinton had been elected, Schanzer pointed out, Obama may have been deterred by concerns of stepping on her toes.
“As we looked at the possibility, for example, of the president coming out with ‘Obama parameters,’ there were analysts and historians who suggested to me that it would be difficult for him to do that knowing that the couple responsible for the ‘Clinton parameters’ would be following him soon after, as it might be viewed as a snub in some way,” he said. “So with that off the table, does it free the president any more? Perhaps he’s unshackled in that way.”
Regardless of who won the election, Schanzer said, “there were always going to be questions as to whether the president should tie the hands of his successor. I think in general there might have been some concern among the Hillary camp that moves made by Obama would be viewed by Israelis as having been coordinated in advance. That’s no longer a issue. But what we’re getting down to is the question of whether this is an acceptable practice for a president to engage in a major diplomatic initiative during the lame-duck period.”
In a statement provided to Jewish Insider on Wednesday, Israeli-American author and journalist Yossi Klein Halevi said, “If Obama does go to the UN, it will be a fit of pique that will have no positive consequences. It would be Obama throwing a temper tantrum. If I were Obama waking up to the news today, the last thing on my mind would be the Palestinian issue. Obama is looking at the ruin of Obamacare, at a very shaky Iran deal, and some other of his key initiatives. If he goes to the UN, he will just be compounding his failure on the peace process.”
Former George W. Bush senior aide Tevi Troy told Jewish Insider, “I’m generally not a fan of outgoing presidents pushing new policy agendas after the president-elect is determined…That said, it wouldn’t shock me if President Obama took steps out the door to handcuff President-elect Trump and to put Israel in a more difficult situation vis-a-vis the UN. I hope he resists the temptation.”
In an interview with The Algemeiner earlier this week, Malcolm Hoenlein — the executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations — referred to a potential end-of-term Obama-led Israeli-Palestinian peace push, saying, “There has been a lot of speculation, but no decision [has made by the administration]. I do think the president is focused on his legacy and will use these months after the election to consolidate his legacy, in both domestic and foreign policy. But there is not a lot of time and there may not be a lot of options.”
“We should be careful not to create a self-fulfilling prophecy, but at the same time we have to consider and be ready for any potential action or policy pronouncement, while also working with the incoming administration,” he continued. “The president acknowledged to me a year ago that there wouldn’t be enough time for a Palestinian state during his term, but he wanted to create the ‘predicates,’ and I think that could still be on his agenda. Or he could simply walk away and say the parties are not at a point where serious discussions can take place.”
Talking about how Trump’s victory would affect US-Israel relations, Schanzer told The Algemeiner on Wednesday, “It’s a complete unknown right now. Trump as a candidate certainly said a lot of the right things to certain people, both publicly and privately, about how he would like to restore US-Israel ties to their previously warm status. What that means practically remains to be seen.”
Schanzer went on to say, “If you have less wrangling between President Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, I think that’s going to be a significant improvement right then and there. But the real questions are what happens with the Iran deal? What happens with Syria? What happens with Hezbollah? What the incoming Trump administration does on these fronts will in many ways determine the trajectory of the bilateral relationship.”