Trump grows increasingly ambiguous on Israel amid Gaza assault

Palm Beach, Florida - At the start of Israel's assault on Gaza in October, Donald Trump loudly presented himself as the key US ally's ultimate champion.

Donald Trump's full-throated support for the Israeli government has lessened somewhat as the assault on Gaza rages on.
Donald Trump's full-throated support for the Israeli government has lessened somewhat as the assault on Gaza rages on.  © MANDEL NGAN / AFP

But six months and more than 33,000 deaths in Gaza later, the Republican White House hopeful has become increasingly vague on the intensity of that support.

The former US president, not usually known for biting his tongue on any given topic, has only halfheartedly commented on the issue in two recent interviews.

"I'm not sure that I'm loving the way they're doing it," he told a conservative radio host Thursday about Israel's offensive.

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And in an exchange with Israeli media, Trump warned that videos "of bombs being dropped into buildings in Gaza" offer "a very bad picture for the world."

"Israel is absolutely losing the PR war," the 77-year-old told radio host Hugh Hewitt.

Trump's pro-Israel policies as president

As president, Donald Trump delivered many victories to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government.
As president, Donald Trump delivered many victories to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government.  © SAUL LOEB / AFP

Despite allusions to his concerns, Trump has not explicitly mentioned the humanitarian crisis in Gaza – where experts warn a famine is looming – the Palestinian civilian death toll, or the seven aid workers killed Monday by an Israeli drone strike.

Still, any comment critical of Israel is a major departure for the Republican White House hopeful, and his remarks have garnered notice in Israel and in Washington.

Trump has long boasted of having done more for Israel than any other US president.

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In 2018, his administration reversed decades of US policy and snubbed a major tenet of an eventual two-state solution with the Palestinians – an option Israel has clearly rejected – by unilaterally recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moving the US embassy there from Tel Aviv, sparking international backlash.

By the end of his term, the United States had brokered the so-called Abraham Accords, which would allow Israel to annex a large area of the West Bank, leaving the Palestinians with a tiny portion of their previous territory and a capital in the outskirts of Jerusalem.

The Trump administration's push for several Arab countries to recognize Israel successfully kicked any imperative to address the Palestinian issue even further down the road – at least temporarily.

Trump's current policy toward Israel remains elusive

But it's not clear whether the billionaire's shift in tone since the war on Gaza would correlate to any real change in policy, if he were to be elected president again in November.

"Nobody's entirely sure what Trump's views are on this," Danielle Pletka, a senior fellow at conservative think tank AEI, told AFP, adding that his recent rhetoric sounds more like it's coming from a "media consultant" than an Oval Office candidate.

"That's not presidential, that's not policy – that's more punditry," she said.

For some observers, Trump's non-committal attitude is best explained by the conflict's high electoral stakes in the United States, as he battles President Joe Biden – who has faced increasing criticism over his continued military support for Israel – for votes.

The otherwise outspoken Trump is employing the same strategy of deliberate ambiguity on other flashpoint issues as well, including abortion, aware that staking out an extreme position on either side could cost him dearly at the polls.

Cover photo: MANDEL NGAN / AFP

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