Trump's G-7 Performance Suits Israel Just Fine

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- How countries feel about the blow-up of the G-7 talks in Canada depends upon how they see the world and their place in it. Israel, for one, is not unhappy. 

This has nothing to do with tariffs. Israel, like most European countries, runs a trade surplus with the United States. It levies protectionist taxes and tariffs on U.S. goods and services. On Trump’s first visit to Israel, in 2017, he pointed this out, rather gently by his standards. Given the comparative size of the two countries, though, the U.S. deficit — about $8 billion — was not high on Trump’s agenda.

Today, that tone may have changed. But if Trump’s toughened trade policies do cost Israel, it is a price Jerusalem can live with — especially if these policies result in a diminished European Union. That's because, put simply, in Mideast matters, the EU has positioned itself against Israeli interests on pretty much every issue of importance.

When German Chancellor Angela Merkel muses about the need for a new world order, Israelis get nervous. Of course, Merkel's Germany isn't Nazi Germany; that hardly needs saying. Merkel often proclaims her unwavering friendship for the Jewish state and is taken at her word. And at her actions: Germany supplies Israel with advanced submarines at deeply discounted prices. But some distrust lingers and it will be many generations before the Jewish state truly trusts, let alone welcomes, a world order dominated by Germany and its European allies. 

Germany’s determination to take in vast numbers of immigrants from countries where hatred of Israel and Jews are received dogma has unsettled Israelis. As German authorities have lately admitted, every Jewish institution in the country now requires armed guards. The situation is only slightly better in France. Yes, some of the anti-Jewish violence comes from the neo-Nazi right. But increasingly, it is perpetrated by recent arrivals.

More concerning from Israel’s perspective is Europe’s consistent one-sided support for Palestinian nationalism, most recently displayed by the refusal of EU countries to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and the EU’s ambassadorial snub of the inauguration of the U.S. embassy. EU leaders support an independent state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital, though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made it clear that this is a non-starter. The most his government (or any conceivable government in the near future) is willing to give the Palestinians is a form of autonomy that leaves Israel in control of border security. 

We have yet to see the Trump plan for a peace deal. But whatever the president proposes, it will be far closer to Israeli ambitions than anything produced by a European-led international community.

Divisions between the EU and the U.S.-Israel over Russia are also closely watched in Israel. At the G-7, Trump suggested re-admitting Moscow to the group. Israel doesn’t really care if Russia is in or out of the club, but it has a keen interest in resolving the situation in Syria with Russian help. Any deal in Syria will require the agreement of both Putin and Trump, who are already engaged in a de facto redesign of the Middle East. Netanyahu, who has worked to build a degree of mutual respect with Russian President Vladimir Putin, is in a position to help broker a deal. The last thing he wants is for Europe to influence the remapping of the Middle East.

Looming over all these concerns is the question of the Iran nuclear program. The U.S. and Israel share the belief that nothing is more dangerous than a nuclear-armed and ballistic-capable Iranian theocracy. They see the Obama-negotiated deal as a sure path to disaster. The Europeans don’t see the problem; and they believe that Trump's withdrawal from the deal has upset the rules-based international order that produced it.

Last week, Netanyahu visited the leaders of Germany, France and Great Britain to try to persuade them to join the U.S. in leaving the nuclear deal. The Big Three assured Netanyahu that they were ready to help push back Iran’s conventional military expansion in the region. But ultimately, he returned home with nothing but pretend commitments from the Europeans.  Two days later, Iran held its annual Al Quds “Death to America, Death to Israel” national holiday. Trump and Netanyahu were burned in effigy -- on the very day the G-7 conference was convened.   

At the summit in Canada, the subject of Iran remained on the back burner. But here, along with on the Palestinian issue, relations with Russia and the other disputes that divide the U.S. from its traditional allies, Israel feels far more comfortable with the U.S.-led order than anything Merkel and her partners might seek to put in its place.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.