How do Israelis view the incoming Trump-Pence administration? My analysis and new poll numbers.

trump-netanyahu-nyc

(Dallas, Texas) — On Thanksgiving Day, I landed at Washington Dulles Airport to begin a month in the States. On the agenda: board meetings with my colleagues at The Joshua Fund; planning meetings in Dallas, Chicago and Manhattan for the March 2017 release of my new political thriller, Without Warning (about massive ISIS attacks inside the U.S. homeland); research calls and meetings for the next novel (which I hope to begin writing in January); and much-anticipated time with family and friends.

But the number one question people I’m being asked is this: What do Israelis think about the election of Donald Trump and the transition to a Trump-Pence administration?

Here’s the short version:

  • Israelis were as stunned as the rest of the world by the elections — especially since the media said Hillary Clinton was a “sure thing.”
  • That said, the Netanyahu government appears enormously encouraged by the election results and believe they will have true and dependable friends and allies at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue beginning on January 20th.
  • The Israeli public at large is steadily warming towards Trump — I would describe the mood as cautiously optimistic. (see new poll results below)
  • By contrast, the Palestinian leadership seems cautiously pessimistic — deeply concerned Trump will be too “pro-Israel.”

On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I had the opportunity to attend The Jerusalem Post’s annual Diplomatic Conference. Attending were about 400 foreign ambassadors, defense attaches, other diplomats and journalists. Speaking to the group was a range of senior Israeli government officials — both members of the Cabinet and opposition leaders — and it was an interesting early look at Israeli thinking at the highest level.

The keynote was delivered by Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu. In his address, he notably did not specifically discuss the Trump victory or his relationship with the President-elect, per se. But Netanyahu did describe himself as “supremely optimistic” with Israel’s present economic and diplomatic environment and her long-term future.

“Supremely optimistic” is not exactly the way most Israelis or Mideast analysts would typically describe the premier.

“Good morning,” Netanyahu began his remarks. “I’m going to dispel a longstanding myth about me and I think you should brace yourselves. If you read some of the, well the other papers in this country you might come out with the impression that I’m a gloomy guy, that I’m pessimistic, that I’m a fear monger. So I’m glad you’re sitting down because what I’m about to tell you will startle you: I am supremely optimistic. In fact, I’ve never been more hopeful. I’m hopeful about Israel, I’m hopeful about our region, I’m hopeful about peace. I’m even hopeful about the UN, can you imagine that?”

Subtext: Israel has new friends in Washington that see Israel as a hopeful, positive, trustworthy force in a turbulent, dangerous region — Trump and Pence are men I can do business with.

It’s a mood echoed by a new poll of the Israeli public, released this week.

  • 83% of Israelis see Mr. Trump as “pro-Israel,” notes a report in the Times of Israel.
  • Only 3% of Israelis, however, believe Trump will actually keep his promise to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

Keep in mind:

  • Trump and Netanyahu have a friendship that goes back many years.
  • Many Americans don’t realize it, but Israelis know that Trump actually endorsed Netanyahu in a recent campaign here and even cut a TV ad supporting Bibi.
  • Trump had a private meeting with Netanyahu (and separately with Egyptian President el-Sisi) in New York in September.
  • Trump spoke to Netanyahu almost immediately after the election and invited the Israeli leader to come to the U.S. to visit. (Netanyahu asked if he could wait until Trump took office so as not to further strain his relationship with Obama).
  • Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer has already met with Trump and Pence at Trump Tower.
  • Pence is deeply trusted by the Netanyahu team as strongly pro-Israel and is a key intermediary for the transition team.

As Trump puts together his national security team, Israelis will be looking very closely for more definitive clues as to the Trump-Pence approach to the region. More on that soon.

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