Foreign Policy / Israel / Politics / Presidential Race 2016

Trump and Clinton: What’s Their Deal With Israel?

On September 25, 2016, the soon-to-be leader of the free world met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Although I cannot yet tell you which it was, I do know that both U.S. presidential nominees conversed with the leader of the free Middle Eastern world about U.S.-Israeli relations. So, what would a Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump presidency mean for Israel?

For starters, both candidates proudly boast of their strong and enduring support for Israel. During her meeting, Hillary Clinton emphasized her support for the 10-year, $38 billion military aid package signed between the U.S. and Israel as well as her opposition to efforts aimed at boycotting Israel. She is also an advocate of the two-state solution and worked toward this goal during her time as secretary of state, when she held three conversations between Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority.

Trump also has thrown his complete support behind Israel, seemingly one of the few points the candidates broadly agree on. He advocates for a two-state solution and insists upon the Palestinian Authority’s recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, stating that until this is done, a deal will never be made. We should not expect to see him working toward the two-state solution, however; while he advocates for the creation of two states, he has said that he would not actively promote a change. He has said he would much rather the two sides reach their own comprehensive agreement rather than follow the ideas of third parties.

In response to both candidates’ experiences and remarks on dealing with Israel and Palestine, Israeli public opinion tends not to favor either candidate over the other. Those who favor a Clinton presidency applaud her experience as secretary of state and her predictability. As Anat Berko, a member of the Israeli parliament, said, “Hillary has a lot of experience. She knows the Middle East.” Many Israelis also associate her with President Bill Clinton, who had a positive relationship with Israelis. However, others associate her with President Barack Obama, who has a hands-off approach to Israel and supported the end of sanctions on Iran. Although President Obama admittedly has received mixed support from Israelis, according to the 2015 Spring Pew Global Attitudes Survey, confidence in Obama slipped in Israel from 71 percent in 2014 to 49 percent in 2015, while 50 percent of Israelis said they have no confidence in the president’s leadership on international affairs. This hesitancy has translated into some hesitancy for Obama’s former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.

Israelis who support a Trump presidency claim that he will do more to help them than Hillary will. According to a survey by The Israel Democracy Institute’s April 2016 Peace Index, 62 percent of Israeli Jews said Trump will be “committed to safeguarding Israel’s security” while only 48 percent of respondents believed that Clinton would “block any attempt to attack or isolate Israel.” Additionally, a survey for Israel’s Channel 1 found that Israelis are more likely to feel that Trump would have a better relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu than Clinton. Trump’s Israeli opponents, however, see Trump as an unknown and unpredictable variable. Jonathan Rynhold, a professor at Bar-Ilan University in Israel and expert in Israeli foreign policy, stated, “With Hillary, she’s a safe pair of hands. She has a good knowledge of the region; she has a good knowledge of the players.” While the public’s primary issue with Trump is the uncertainty surrounding his objectives, people have more of an idea of what they’re getting into with Clinton.

Additionally, both candidates will have to work with the newly signed agreement between the U.S. and Israel that will give Israel as much as $3.8 billion in aid over the next 10 years. Hillary Clinton expressed support for the deal in her meeting with Netanyahu while Trump has not yet commented on it, although the prospect of his increasing aid for Israel while president has always been likely.

The candidates’ friendly meetings with Netanyahu, commitment to increased aid, and positive support from Israelis suggest continued cooperation and future support for Israel, no matter who the president is. However, it is still unknown if and how each candidate would carry this out. For now, pro-Israel American voters must ask themselves whether they favor certainty and shaky commitment or uncertainty and rigid assurance.