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What Trump did to push the Israeli election in Netanyahu’s favor — and what he didn’t do

A supporter of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wearing a mask with the face of President Trump, marches in Jerusalem on Sunday. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

This week, Benjamin Netanyahu is facing one of the toughest reelection bids of his career. But if he wins it, he will probably go down in history as one of the longest serving Israeli prime ministers in history.

In reaching that landmark, he may not only want to thank Israeli voters — but also President Trump.

Trump took a variety of actions before the election that may have had an impact on the vote. But just as important are the moves he did not make that could have undercut Netanyahu’s case.

Here’s a rough guide to the Trump administration’s action before the election.

What Trump did do: Recognize the Golan Heights as Israeli territory

On March 21, Trump tweeted His announcement that the United States would now recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, a strip of land a little under 500 square miles that was seized by Israel from Syria during the Six-Day War of 1967.

The move reversed decades of U.S. — and indeed, Israeli — policy, which had previously seen the strip as a likely bargaining chip in a future peace deal between Israel and Syria. But years of civil war in Syria had led to a reassessment of the threat by Israelis, and polls showed many supported full annexation of the Golan Heights for strategic reasons.

Trump’s decision on the Golan Heights appeared to have circumvented the typical process for changes to U.S. foreign policy. In Israel, some saw it as an attempt to show support for Netanyahu, an ally of Trump and a family friend of Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law.

“It’s clear that Netanyahu has managed to influence Trump to do this for his own electoral benefit,” Jonathan Rynhold, a professor in political science at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, told The Washington Post. “It is clear intervention in the Israeli electoral process.”

What Trump didn’t do: Condemn Netanyahu’s comments about West Bank settlements

While campaigning on Saturday, Netanyahu was asked why his government had not annexed some of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank. He responded: “We will move to the next stage, the imposing of Israeli sovereignty.”

The comments added to speculation that Netanyahu hoped to put certain parts of the West Bank under Israeli control. Critics say such an action would imperil any chances for a viable two-state solution to the Israeli conflict, though Netanyahu has suggested Israel is entitled to control any land gained in a “just war of self-defense.”

The White House has declined to comment on Netanyahu’s remarks, which may be a reflection of caution about influencing the vote. But the Trump administration has undertaken a number of moves that conflict with the idea of a two-state solution, including moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and closing the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem that served the West Bank.

When he appeared in front of a congressional committee last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declined to answer when asked whether the United States still supported a two-state solution.

What Trump did do: Designate the Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization.

The Trump administration designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization on April 8. The decision, which marks the first time Washington has branded a foreign government entity a terrorist group, is expected to place more economic pressure on the government of Iran.

Iranian leaders noted the designation came just one day before the election and argued it was designed to aid Netanyahu, a critic of Tehran.

That idea was not lost on Netanyahu either.

“Thank you, my dear friend, President Donald Trump, for having decided to announce Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization,” Netanyahu wrote on Twitter in Hebrew. “Thank you for the answer to another important request that serves the interests of our country and the region. We will continue to act together in any way against the Iranian regime that threatens the state of Israel, the United States and the Peace of the world.”

In the English-language version of the tweet, however, the reference to a “request” was omitted.

What Trump didn’t do: Unveil a peace plan

Shortly after taking office, Trump dispatched Kushner to work on finding a peaceful solution to the dispute between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Though Kushner told a Palestinian newspaper last year the peace plan was “almost done,” so far it has not appeared.

The White House has said it is planning to release the plan at some point after the election, though it is unclear when exactly it will choose to do so. By delaying the release of the plan, critics say, Trump has avoided giving in to the demands of Israeli lawmakers to Netanyahu’s right who wanted the vote to be a referendum on the plan.

Read more:

To Israel, Trump’s Golan Heights decision is a no-brainer: It says occupying territory gained in a defensive war is justifiable

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