An Israel that was still basking in the afterglow of President Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was rocked last week by his comments suggesting there could be a heavy cost attached to the move.
At a campaign-style rally in West Virginia, the president said that moving the embassy was “a good thing to have done,” and that “Israel will have to pay a higher price, because they won a very big thing.”
The Palestinians, he said, “will get something very good, because it’s their turn next.”
As is true for so many of this president’s comments — often broadcast in daily tweets and at campaign rallies rather than White House press room announcements or carefully crafted Oval Office speeches — it’s hard to discern exactly what he meant. Late last week, presidential spokespeople were attempting to walk back his comments, which ignited confusion and consternation in Israel, where streets have been renamed in Trump’s honor in gratitude for the embassy move.
What is clear is that more than any of its predecessors, this is an administration that conducts foreign policy by impulse — that of a single man. Expertise and experience are devalued. The State Department, with its cadres of seasoned foreign policy hands, has been hollowed out. Top foreign policy and national security officials often find their own statements contradicted by an impetuous president. And old alliances are thrown overboard with careless abandon. Consistency, apparently, is a dirty word in our new foreign policy establishment.
Like most Israelis, we are grateful for the embassy move, which was long overdue. But we, too, are deeply concerned about the concept of foreign policy by whim and diplomacy by tweet. Israel’s security relies heavily on a stable, respected ally in Washington capable of genuine international leadership. And it depends on a consistent and knowledgeable commitment to the Jewish state’s security in a dangerous neighborhood.
Last week’s latest mini-furor was not an encouraging sign.