Donald Trump and Israel: What the president-elect's relationship with US ally looks like

Donald Trump and Israel: What the president-elect's relationship with US ally looks like

The Israeli right is celebrating Donald Trump's victory in the 2016 presidential election, heralding his win as the end of the two-state solution to Israel's ongoing conflict with neighboring Palestine. 

Israel's education minister, Naftali Bennett — who leads the Jewish Home party, which advocates for Jerusalem as Israel's capital — welcomes a Trump presidency. To him, it indicates that "the era of a Palestinian state is over," a declaration he made on Nov. 14, according to the New York Times

A very brief overview of the conflict: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict began as a land dispute, one that stretches back to the early 20th century. Theodor Herzl, leader of the Zionist movement, identified Palestine as the best location for a Jewish state, and immigration there picked up after the Russian Revolution of 1905. With the Balfour Declaration of 1917, Britain validated the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, despite Palestinian objection. In 1947, after World War II, the U.N. partitioned Palestine and in May 1948, the state of Israel was declared. 

Violent conflict over land two nations saw as rightfully theirs immediately ensued. The city of Jerusalem is especially contentious, both sides having named it as the ideal capital of their separate states. Current efforts at peace between the two nations tend to fit a two-state solution: Israel and Palestine exist as separate entities. At issue are two areas with substantial Palestinian populations, the West Bank and Gaza Strip; the former is Israeli-occupied and the latter, subject to blockade by Israel. Hamas, a fundamentalist Islamic organization, controls Gaza and is at war with Israel. 

During the administration of President Barack Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sided with congressional Republicans over Obama's policies in the Middle East. While the U.S. and Israel remain close allies, relations are tense, to say the least.

How does Trump plan to fix things? As it is on so many other urgent issues, Trump's position on Israel is somewhat murky. In a February town hall, he declared himself to be kind of "a neutral guy," having previously suggested the onus of making a peace deal lay on Israel. 

But in a March speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, he not only called himself "a lifelong supporter and true friend of Israel," but also characterized Palestine as the primary aggressor in the conflict, and promised he would not allow the United Nations to "impose its will" on Israel.

"When I become president, the days of treating Israel like a second-class citizen will end on day one," he said. 

Trump's position on the campaign trail was mostly pro-Israel. He said that he would move the capital to Jerusalem, a promise on which he intends to make good, according to David Friedman, who advises Trump on Israel and the Middle East. 

"It was a campaign promise, and there is every intention to keep it," he recently told the Jerusalem Post. "We are going to see a very different relationship between America and Israel in a positive way."

Friedman also added that "the level of friendship between the U.S. and Israel is going to grow like never before." And that seems to track with Trump's position on the matter. 

As CNN reported, Jerusalem's mayor, Nir Barkat, is optimistic about the city under a Trump presidency. "The role of the city of Jerusalem will never change," he said after Trump's win. "It has to be under the sovereignty of the Jewish people. It has to play an inclusive role. It can never function as a divided city."

But according to the New York Times, Netanyahu has been careful, cheering Trump's victory publicly while urging his own administration to keep dealings behind closed doors. No one knows definitively what Trump will do — when it comes to Israel or any of his other stated policies.