Five Key Moments in US-Israel Relations in 2017
JNS.org – Love him or hate him, 2017 was a year dominated by President Donald Trump.
The US-Israel relationship was no stranger to that phenomenon, ranging from Trump’s visit to the Jewish state in May, to his historic decision on Jerusalem in December. At the same time, some of this year’s other major stories in the Israeli-American arena had little or nothing to do with Trump.
Here are five key moments in US-Israel relations that took place during the past year:
Trump’s policy changes on Jerusalem
On December 6, Trump recognized Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, and declared plans to eventually move the US embassy in Israel to that city. The president called the policy changes “long overdue,” and said that recognition of Jerusalem as the capital is “obvious” given that all of Israel’s government bodies — from the Knesset to the prime minister’s residence — are located there.
“This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality,” said Trump. “It is also the right thing to do.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Trump’s decision reflected the “commitment to an ancient but enduring truth, to fulfilling his promises and to advancing peace.”
Trump’s Israel trip
Trump made Israel one of his first visits abroad as president, when he touched down in the Jewish state in late May — to much pomp and circumstance. Trump’s trip included the first visit to the Western Wall by a sitting American president.
The visit did not come without controversy, however. A US official’s remark that the Western Wall is part of the West Bank and not Israel stirred Israeli-American tension before the White House disavowed the comments.
The Western Wall prayer controversy
In June, the Israeli cabinet decided to freeze an agreement for a permanent egalitarian prayer section — which was to have been jointly overseen by non-Orthodox Jewish groups — at the Western Wall. The move by the Israeli government, which reneged on a January 2016 agreement, sparked a crisis between the government and Diaspora Jewry.
Israeli Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett admitted that “mistakes were made” by the government in its decision, but said that the controversy largely resulted from a “campaign of misinformation claiming [that] the [Western Wall] is being closed to Diaspora Jews. … This is false.”
A ‘new sheriff in town’ at the UN
Trump’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, has been determined to change the culture of bias against Israel at the world body. At the AIPAC Policy Conference in March, Haley described herself as the “new sheriff in town” at the UN, and vowed that she would “kick [anti-Israel elements] every single time” that they displayed their bias.
Indeed, Haley has taken aim at UN bodies that have repeatedly and disproportionately targeted Israel, including the Human Rights Council and the UNESCO cultural agency. In October, the US announced that it would pull out of UNESCO due to its “anti-Israel bias.”
In the wake of Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem, Haley blamed the world body for being the real obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace, and vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that called for the withdrawal of the US recognition of Jerusalem. When the same resolution was passed by the UN General Assembly, Haley said that the vote “will be remembered.” And before the vote, she said that the US would be “taking names” of countries that supported the UN condemnation of Trump’s Jerusalem move.
Haley’s series of moves defending Israel at the UN came after the departing Obama administration, in December 2016, refused to veto a Security Council resolution that condemned Israel’s settlement policy and described eastern Jerusalem as “occupied Palestinian territory.”
Israel declares advanced American-made fighter jets operational
Less than a year after receiving its first nine F-35 stealth fighter jets from the US, the Israeli military declared that the fleet of aircrafts was fully operational in early December.
“The announcement of the operationalization of the ‘Adir’ aircraft comes at a time in which the Israeli Air Force (IAF) is operating on a large scale on a number of fronts in a dynamic Middle East,” said IAF chief Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin.
Israel has agreed to purchase 50 of the F-35 jets from the US, and was the first foreign country permitted to acquire the advanced warplanes, at a cost of roughly $100 million each.
Tal Inbar, who heads the space research center at the Israel-based Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies, told JNS regarding the F-35 that the “technological jump of the plane compared to all other planes in the [Middle East] is enormous, but the jump in operational capabilities is no less important. The freedom of maneuver that the air force gets has been significantly strengthened.”