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Israel's Right Wing Expects Boost From A Trump Presidency

One recent evening in an Israeli lobbyist's office overlooking Tel Aviv, toasts were made over Trump-brand vodka and sparkling wine.

A group of activists who lobbied Israeli-Americans to vote for Donald Trump gathered around a boardroom table to celebrate his victory.

"Mazel tov!" they said, popping open a bottle of bubbly cava. "L'chaim!" they said, toasting life.

"I hope [Trump] is better than his vodka," one activist joked.

When Trump becomes president in January, it will be the first time that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will hold office opposite a Republican in the White House.

Netanyahu, a conservative, has had a very rocky relationship with President Barack Obama. Now, Israel's right wing is anticipating great gains from Trump's presidency.

A guest of honor at the boardroom party was Yossi Dagan, the leader of the Shomron Regional Council, an Israeli settlement council in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

"I think the last eight years... have been a catastrophe," he told the gathering, referring to pressures placed on settlement building during Obama's tenure.

For years, the U.S. has criticized Israeli settlement construction in lands where the Palestinians want to establish an independent state, calling it "corrosive to the cause of peace."

But Dagan, the settler leader, expects Trump to take a different approach: one that does not pressure Israel regarding settlements.

Jason Greenblatt, who was appointed during the elections as a top advisor to Trump on Israel affairs, told Israeli army radio last month that Trump does not believe settlement activity should be condemned or is the "obstacle for peace."

Trump "just has to, like, take a step back and let Israel do what it really needs to do," said Chaim Rosenfield, an activist at the victory party.

Israel's right-wing education minister, Naftali Bennett, thinks Trump should officially dismiss the idea of an independent Palestinian state – even though the U.S. has long said it sees no other endgame, and Netanyahu has said the same.

Netanyahu might miss having a U.S. president like Obama as a counterweight to his right-wing backers, according to Israeli columnist Shmuel Rosner.

"The Obama administration was a useful tool for Netanyahu," Rosner said. "When he did not want to do something, he could always say, 'Well, the White House wouldn't let me.'

"If the Trump administration signals that whatever Israel wants, Trump is willing to support, it will be much more difficult for Netanyahu to use the American administration as an excuse to block the right wing from running with its agenda," Rosner said.

Netanyahu told CBS's 60 Minutes that Trump "feels warmly" about Israel, and that he'd talk to Trump about undoing the Iranian nuclear deal, which Netanyahu opposes. But the Israeli leader has so far been cautious in his comments about Trump's win, not commenting on specific positions he expects Trump to support, which Rosner thinks is due to Trump's unconventionality.

"Netanyahu, for many years, was hoping to get a Republican administration. Now he got one, but it's not truly a Republican administration. It's a Trump administration," Rosner said.

Israel's ambassador to the U.S. met with the President-elect last month. The Palestinian leadership, however, has not met with Trump, according to Dimitri Diliani, a member of a leadership council for the governing Fatah party in the West Bank.

"I don't think that the Palestinian leadership views Trump's victory as positive for our cause," Diliani said, in part due to Trump's outspoken support of Israel.

But Diliani, who is also a hi-tech businessman, offered a contrarian take. He said many in the Palestinian private sector are optimistic about Trump.

"President Trump would be more decisive when it comes to the Palestinian cause," Diliani said. "Business people think that way. 'Get it done, boom, I want a plan to get it done.' This is exactly what the Palestinian people want, and I believe this is what many, or most, Israelis want."

In a speech recently, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas suggested he is keeping an open mind about Trump.

"We know nothing about him," Abbas said.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.