Call It the <i>Dugri</i> Doctrine: <br>Plain Talk From Trump <br>Startles the Middle East

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Roughly translated, “dugri” means “straightforwardness.” Antonym: diplomatic ambiguity. The Turkic word, pronounced DOOH-gree, entered the Hebrew language and became a staple of Israeli discourse. President-elect Trump’s approach to diplomacy appears to appreciate dugri.

And, hey, an American non-ambiguous dugri may just be what Middle East diplomacy now requires. Take the nomination of David Friedman, Mr. Trump’s long time confidante, bankruptcy lawyer and friend, to be America’s next envoy in Israel.

“I expect the next U.S. ambassador in Israel to support, like I do, strong, close and warm relations between our countries and support security cooperation, as we did during the Obama presidency,” Daniel Shapiro, President Obama’s ambassador in Tel Aviv, told me several days before Mr. Trump’ named Mr. Friedman.


He then added, a bit more dugri, “I hope [the new ambassador] will also be someone who promotes peace between Israel and its neighbors.”

By the way, we did not speak English. One refreshing innovation Mr. Shapiro introduced during a five year-stint in Tel Aviv was mastering Hebrew and Arabic, Israel’s two official languages. For a lot of Israelis, that was a welcome departure from the past, when ambassadors’ access to the local press, broadcast, and social networks was constrained by the limitations of the translated word.

But that departure from past diplomatic practices pales in comparison to the aura of revolution that accompanied the nomination of Mr. Friedman – an unambiguous signal that the days of American ambiguity toward Israel and Washington’s unease with its policies are over.


On Saturday, Arab foreign ministers are expected to convene at Cairo to try and unite behind a Palestinian proposal for a Security Council resolution declaring Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal and anathema to peace. Turtle Bay is giddy with anticipation that Mr. Obama will allow the resolution to pass.

The outgoing secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, told the council Friday that “bias against Israel” has “hampered the ability of the United Nations to fulfill its role effectively.” Yet diplomats are wondering whether even America’s own envoy here, Samantha Power, knows how Mr. Obama will instruct her if the Palestinians gain a vote before noon on January 20.

Had Mr. Obama or Ms. Power said, dugri, that a veto is forthcoming, British, French and other diplomats would discourage other council members from supporting a failed resolution. The required 9-member support for a vote would likely not have been reached, dooming the proposal while releasing Mr. Obama from vetoing.


Instead, Washington used ambiguity to lean on Israel. Diplomats tell me Washington has posed a condition for vetoing the Palestinian resolution, telling Mr. Netanyahu that if he allows the Knesset to legalize 50 West Bank outposts, America will allow the Palestinian resolution to pass in the Security Council.

Compare that to the straightforward signal Mr. Trump sends by naming as ambassador a champion of West Bank settlers, an envoy who once compared Mr. Obama’s favorite Jewish advocacy group, J Street, to “capos,” and who strongly advocates relocating the American embassy to Jerusalem.

Leftists in Israel and in America have denounced Mr. Friedman as, in the phrase of Ha’aretz, “to the right of [Prime Minister] Netanyahu.” Right wingers cheered and such centriests as Yair Lapid are welcoming the prospect of the embassy being established at Jerusalem.

Widely overlooked is the moot-to-nonexistent response in the Arab world, the supposed aggrieved party in the Jerusalem contretemps. “That’s [Trump’s] business,” was the comment from top Palestinian Authority official Saeb Erekat.

As one Cairo diplomat told me, Egyptians “can’t wait” until Mr. Obama – who has been sending ambiguous signals to the country after President al-Sisi overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood leadership in 2014 – is out of office. Other Sunni countries, from Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf to North Africa, are still smarting from Washington’s never explicitly announced, but widely perceived turn toward Shiite Iran and away from America’s traditional Arab alliances.

One reason no Arab rushed to denounce an envoy widely portrayed as hostile to the Palestinian cause could be that the prospect of Mr. Trump’s accession is seen as a turn away from Mr. Obama’s lack of dugri, where no friend is a friend and no foe is a foe.

While Mr. Shapiro truly promoted strong America-Israel ties and while Mr. Obama has equipped Israel with much needed defensive arms, Arabs have been puzzled by the chill between Messrs. Obama and Netanyahu. An attempt to reignite direct peace was even rebuffed by the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, who has been hoping that Mr. Obama would deliver Mr. Netanyahu.

So Mr. Obama ends his presidency with no progress in Middle East peacemaking. Perhaps Mr. Trump, with his unambiguous signals on the US-Israeli alliance, could do better. If so, call it the dugri doctrine

Twitter: @bennyavni

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