In 2016, the ICEJ's U.S. branch launched a campaign to request confirmation from the two presidential candidates—that they would abide by five guiding principles regarding Israel. The Trump campaign responded in the affirmative while we never heard back from the Clinton campaign.
Much has happened in the last four years, and since we are again in a presidential election cycle, it seemed like a good time to score President Trump on his performance to date about these agreed principles.
Principle 1: Recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and move the U.S. Embassy there. After Trump's confirmation in January of 2017, the ICEJ moved quickly on this issue, sending him a strategy paper in April, laying out the benefits of moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. In May, the ICEJ joined another 60 U.S. Christian leaders in urging Trump to keep his promise, but were dismayed when he followed the example of every president before him since Bill Clinton and used a security waiver to delay the move by six months. (A clause was built into the 1995 Jerusalem Law allowing presidents to postpone moving the embassy due to perceived security threats.)
Undeterred, the ICEJ joined several key Christian leaders in November—ahead of the next possible security waiver—to once again remind President Trump of his promise to move the embassy and recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
In December, President Trump ended years of heartache for millions of evangelicals in America and shocked the entire world when he did not renew the waiver and declared that the United States was officially recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital and would be moving the embassy there from Tel Aviv.
If that did not cause enough of an uproar around the globe, in January 2018, President Trump surprised everyone with the announcement that the U.S. Embassy would open in Jerusalem on May 14—Israel's 70th anniversary—that same year. Not many saw that one coming, and the initiative certainly laid to rest any lingering doubts about the president's willingness to fulfill his promise on this count. It also shot a big, gaping hole through the security threat excuse that every president for the last 20 years before Trump had used. For those who had never accepted the perceived wisdom on this issue, validation had seldom been sweeter, and the world war that failed to materialize wasn't much of a surprise either.
President Trump gets full marks on this point.
Principle 2: Renew the 10-year Memorandum of Understanding between the United States and Israel, which provides aid in response to Israel's growing security needs. The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) provides security assistance to Israel so it can maintain its military edge in the region and defend itself against an array of threats. A new MOU was agreed to on Sept. 14, 2016, under the Obama administration and contains the largest single pledge of military assistance in U.S. history.
Under President Trump's leadership, Congress passed a funding bill in Feb. 2019 allowing for the $200 million increase in annual spending required to meet the obligations of the new MOU.
So while credit must be given to President Obama for his leadership on the new MOU agreement, President Trump still gets full marks for ensuring this important agreement is carried out.
Principle 3: Oppose the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. On Feb. 5, 2019, Senator Marco Rubio's (R-FL) bill, the Strengthening America's Security in the Middle East Act (S.1), passed in the Senate by a vote of 77–23. Unfortunately, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives refused to take up the bill due to a provision included called the Combatting BDS Act of 2019.
Rubio's provision would have empowered states in their efforts to disengage from contracts with entities involved in boycotts of Israel. Some 27 states have already passed legislation against the BDS movement, and this would have provided some cover from counter lawsuits from organizations such as the ACLU.
The record of what followed in 2019 is truly distressing. By March, Congress was forced to respond to vile anti-Semitic tropes regurgitated by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), but in their confusion, all that resulted was a watered-down rebuke that condemned both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. It's worth noting that, according to the FBI, over 50% of all religiously motivated hate crimes in the United States are directed at Jews or Jewish institutions. There is no parallel.
In April, the Chabad of Poway synagogue in California was attacked on the last day of Passover by a deranged gunman who killed 1 and injured 3, including the rabbi. This was less than six months after the deadliest anti-Semitic attack to ever occur on U.S. soil when the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh was attacked, killing 11 and wounding 6.
By the end of the year, President Trump had grown frustrated with Congress' lack of action in response to the growing problem of anti-Semitism. Recognizing the role college campuses play not only in fermenting anti-Semitic ideas but also in real discrimination against Jewish students, President Trump signed an executive order against anti-Semitism on Dec. 11, 2019. The order specifically protects Jews from discrimination at taxpayer-funded universities and recognizes anti-Zionism as being anti-Semitic. This is important because the BDS movement is built upon the insidious idea that Zionism is racist and the Jews have no right to live in Israel as their ancestral homeland.
While more could have done over the last four years to oppose the BDS movement in the United States, President Trump still gets full marks for taking as much initiative as he could to combat the problem at its source.
Principle 4: Sanction Iran's relentless actions as the world's leading sponsor of terror. On May 8, 2018, President Trump announced that the United States was withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPA), or "Iran Deal" as it is better known. Trump called it "a horrible one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made." He also promised to snap back U.S. nuclear sanctions, which had been suspended under the Obama administration. By the end of the year, some 1,000 Iranian persons and entities had been targeted for sanctions. The sanctions were tagged in response to terrorism, human rights, WMD proliferation and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
The Trump administration has continued to tighten sanctions on Iran, targeting 80% of its economy and reducing the 2016 JCPA economic boon to inflationary recession.
There is no doubt that President Trump has fulfilled his campaign pledge to leave the Iran Deal and has backed that up with crippling sanctions. He gets full marks on this point.
Principle 5: Reject third-party solutions to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict not negotiated by the two parties. On Jan. 28, 2020, President Trump unveiled his long-awaited peace plan. Presented as a take-it-or-leave-it option, the plan certainly differs from previous attempts at negotiating peace between the two sides. For example, when President Obama attempted to reignite negotiations between the two sides in 2011, he took the previously unseen position that the starting point for any deal would be a return to the pre-1967 borders. In other words, Israel was left with almost nothing to negotiate and would first have to agree to give up East Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria (the so-called West Bank)—areas illegally occupied by Jordan from 1948 to 1967.
The essential difference in approach can be distilled to this: Trump's peace plan recognizes the rightful claim of Israel under international law to all of the territory west of the Jordan river, while previous approaches, such as Obama's, were built on the assumption that Israel was illegally occupying the West Bank and must, therefore, relinquish it to the Palestinians for there to be peace.
Trump's plan invites Israel to relinquish part of its inheritance—about 70% of the West Bank—in return for peace, with the caveat that the Palestinians must agree to the terms to actually receive a state in the areas outlined. But either way, Israel retains her rights and sovereignty.
Notably, the plan does not offer anything to the Palestinians that Israel has not already offered in the past, and Israel's leadership accepted the plan without reservations.
Importantly, the Palestinians were given the option of setting up a capital for their state on the outskirts of East Jerusalem but would receive no sovereignty over any part of biblical Jerusalem, commonly known as the Old City—the epicenter of the struggle between the two sides.
So how should we score Trump on this point? To be honest, there has been little progress on the plan itself to date. Prime Minister Netanyahu was recently considering annexation of the Jordan Valley as part of the plan, but in the end, that move was put on ice as a deal sweetener for the United Arab Emirates to sign a historic peace accord with Israel, potentially signaling that more Arab states could follow suit.
What's important to note is that President Trump's plan has laid the groundwork for peace because it is built on truth, foregoing the lie perpetuated through the decades by diplomats the world over that Israel is an illegal occupier in the ancestral homeland of the Jews. The world has now been put on notice that Israel is here to stay, and her rights and sovereignty are not up for sale.
President Trump may not have followed our principle to the letter, but he deserves credit for a unique approach that is already producing positive results for Israel and the region. How can he not receive full marks on this point too?
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