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Trump or Clinton? Israelis Fret, But Either Likely Ally

  • Reuters

Israeli soldiers stand near a bus stop featuring posters from the Israeli branch of the U.S. Republican party campaign in support of Donald Trump, Oct. 6, 2016.

Israeli soldiers stand near a bus stop featuring posters from the Israeli branch of the U.S. Republican party campaign in support of Donald Trump, Oct. 6, 2016.

Most of the world follows U.S. presidential elections closely, but Israel can seem particularly obsessive, endlessly assessing which candidate will better protect its interests and breaking down their every comment for policy clues.

As America votes on Tuesday, a cartoon in the left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haaretz captured a sense of that fretfulness, depicting friends sitting outside a typical falafel stand and discussing in nerdy detail how the ballot turn out.

"There's no way he'd lose Utah and Arizona, and you can't count on North Carolina," one says to the other. "They'd need to win Pennsylvania and hopefully Florida," the other replies.

The fact is, despite all the nervous introspection, both Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump are likely to be reliable for Israel, continuing the broad policy mix U.S. presidents have pursued since the 1980s. It's the Palestinians who may have more to worry about.

Fractious relationship

Over the past four years, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has had a fractious relationship with Barack Obama, openly campaigning against the U.S. deal on Iran's nuclear program, including condemning it in a speech to Congress.

But ultimately that did not stand in the way of the Obama administration's agreeing a new, $38 billion, 10-year military aid package for Israel.

And while the U.S. president has criticized Israel for building more settlements on land the Palestinians seek for their own state, the censure has never gone beyond words, essentially leaving Israel free to build.

Analysts say that standoff-ish approach is likely to continue whether Clinton or Trump becomes president, and there are other reasons for Israel to expect a warmer embrace from the next administration than it has had from Obama.

Netanyahu neutral

Netanyahu has been careful not to show favoritism, meeting both candidates and saying much the same thing afterwards.

Clinton, a former New York senator and U.S. secretary of state, has repeatedly emphasized that she will protect Israel's interests. Trump has said he will move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a popular line that would all but enshrine Jerusalem as the country's capital.

"We enjoy and appreciate the strong bipartisan support we get," said Lior Weintraub, vice president of The Israel Project, a pro-Israel lobby group, and a former chief of staff at the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C.

"We believe either president will continue the tradition of the many presidents from both sides of the aisle of fostering the alliance on every front, from security to culture."

Both candidates have backers

While polls show most Israelis favor Clinton, Trump has a hard-core following among some national-religious Israelis, many of whom are originally from the United States.

When it comes to policy, Israeli analysts see Clinton as having a better handle on the issues, and the people who are likely to handle the Middle East if she is elected are more familiar faces than those in Trump's circle.

The question is what it may mean for the Palestinians. With deep internal divisions and little prospect of a resumption of peace talks with Israel, Palestinian observers believe neither candidate has their best interests at heart.

"Either of them will maintain the U.S. commitment to aid Israel, the two have publicly angered the Palestinians in electoral speeches," said analyst Hani Habib.

"The only difference was that Trump promised to move the U.S. ambassador to Jerusalem while Clinton kept silent. Any betting on either of them is a losing bet," he said.

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