President-elect Donald Trump stormed to victory in last month’s election on the strength of a populist, nationalist and often unconventional platform that included building a wall on the United States-Mexico border and tracking or banning Muslim immigration.
He wooed about one-quarter of the Jewish vote in part with hawkish positions, such as moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and “tearing up” the Iran nuclear deal.
Will he make good on his promises when he takes office Jan. 20? Can he?
“We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem…”
—March 21, 2016
A 1995 law passed overwhelmingly by both houses of Congress mandates that the United States Embassy in Israel be moved to Jerusalem and affirms the city as Israel’s undivided capital. Yet every president since that time has declined to implement the law over worries that relocating the embassy there might further harm Israeli-Palestinian relations because the final status of Jerusalem is to be the subject of negotiations according to international law.
Trump made the pledge to move the embassy during his speech to more than 18,000 attendees of the AIPAC policy conference in March — a promise that diplomat David Pressman said makes for good politics at home, but not abroad.
“I hope that when he [Trump] takes office and begins looking around for real pragmatic solutions to move the ball forward as opposed to sound bites, he will recognize that moving the embassy does not advance peace and stability but undermines it,” said Pressman, a former alternate representative of the United States to the United Nations.
Former Middle East peace negotiator Dennis Ross, who has been an adviser to the last four presidents, said that moving the embassy would trigger all sorts of reactions— including from the Israelis, who he said don’t favor the move because it would require them to do something about the Palestinian issue.
“Even though, logically speaking, there shouldn’t be a problem, no one who claims to be serious about peace denies that West Jerusalem is going to be a part of Israel. But whenever you talk about Jerusalem, all logic seems to go out the window.”
A recent poll showed that half of Israelis are skeptical of Trump’s vow to move the embassy.
But the unlikely prospect of an Israel-Palestinian peace agreement in the next four years is precisely the reason Trump should move the embassy, said Morton Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America, which opposes a two-state solution.
“Not doing it only sends a message that terrorism works and the Palestinians are not held accountable for their intransigence,” he said. “It only leads to the false conclusion that they may get parts of East Jerusalem.”
Nathan Diament, the executive director of the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, said there’s no reason Trump can’t move the embassy.
“We hope he’ll keep the promise,” he said. “If he wants to do it he can do it. That’s the power of the presidency.”
“My number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.”
—March 21, 2016
In his AIPAC speech, Trump also promised to repeal the Iran nuclear pact. He has also said he might attempt to renegotiate it to push for more sanctions and a longer sunset time, which is currently 15 years. Ross doubts Trump will touch the issue within his first 100 days in office.
The diplomat noted that the United States’ partners in the deal — the United Kingdom, France, Germany, China and Russia — have no interest in making changes.
“If he walks away from the deal, he walks away from the deal alone,” Ross said.
Pressman agreed that it is “hard to come to the conclusion that ripping up the Iran deal is the most prudent course of action.”
One advantage Trump has is an almost universal distaste for the agreement among Republicans and even some Democrats. Among the Democrats who voted against it were Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and soon-to-be Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
With the Senate considering a 10-year extension of the Iran Sanctions Act, Trump may get part of what he wants. But, Allen Schick, a political science professor at the University of Maryland, warned that United States action against the interests of the U.N. Security Council’s permanent members could spell trouble.
“This is an international agreement, which is hard to walk away from,” he said.
Schick said if Trump extends the sanctions, it could indirectly lead to dismantling the deal, as he promised to do. Tehran will see it as a breach of the agreement and abandon the deal. “Then President Trump can say, ‘Aha! It’s not I that’s breaching the deal, but Iran.’”
“Donald J. Trump is calling for a complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.”
—Dec. 7, 2015
Trump, speaking in the third person, had originally called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States, following a shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., last year. Since then, he has shifted his position to implementing a Muslim registry. Ross said Trump may pursue that option, but that he could encounter opposition in Congress.
“I think what stops him is that he has 52 Republicans,” in the Senate, Ross said. “It doesn’t mean that everything he proposes to do will get support.”
Ross pointed to Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) and John McCain (Ariz.) as examples of Republicans whose opposition to Trump’s proposal to register Muslims is likely to continue is likely to continue into Trump’s presidency. Ultimately, alienating the remaining moderate wing of the party could be too great a cost to the president-elect.
“Every one of these particular issues, he’ll have to weigh other priorities that he has,” Ross said.
Diament said Trump’s proposals about Muslims can be sensible as long as it focuses on national security.
“Religious freedom in the U.S. can coexist with a policy that will keep Americans secure from terrorism,” he said.
“I will build a great wall…”
—June 16, 2015
As with some of his other proposals, Trump has shifted on how large of a wall he plans to construct on the U.S.-Mexico border to prevent undocumented immigrants — who he has referred to as “rapists” and “bad hombres” — from crossing the border. Last month, Trump said on “60 Minutes” that his wall might only cover a portion of the 2,000-mile border and some portions may only consist of a fence.
Politifact reported that Trump’s wall could cost between $8 billion and $12 billion. Trump has said he will make Mexico pay for it, but Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto has said it won’t.
The fate of the wall may not hinge as much on the monetary cost as on the political cost to Republicans in Congress who go along with it, Schick said. This is difference between campaigning and governing, he said.
Schick thinks Trump will take a firmer stance than President Barack Obama on immigration, but it’s unlikely to include the wall.
But the populist sentiment behind Trump and his wall should not be forgotten, said Diana Furchtgott-Roth of the Manhattan Institute’s Washington office and who was an economic adviser in Trump’s campaign.
“The appropriation of funds is something Congress decides. But the message is that we need increased security, and that resonated very well with the electorate,” she said. “It’s very important to have security. We’ve seen what’s happened with Nice and with Paris and we do not want that happening in the United States. We don’t want a situation where people can walk across our border,” she said.