by Eli Clifton
Candidate Donald Trump claimed that he wouldn’t be beholden to campaign donors and slammed his Republican primary opponents as puppets of their wealthy patrons. “Sheldon Adelson is looking to give big dollars to Rubio because he feels he can mold him into his perfect little puppet. I agree!” Trump tweeted in October 2015. But an excerpt from Michael Wolff’s upcoming book Fire and Fury quotes Steve Bannon, who served as CEO of the Trump campaign and went on to become White House chief strategist, effectively acknowledging that Adelson has been a driving force behind the Trump administration’s foreign policy decision-making.
Adelson and his wife Miriam contributed $35 million to help elect Trump, making the couple Trump’s biggest campaign supporters.
An excerpt published in New York Magazine describes a dinner attended by Roger Ailes two weeks before Trump’s inauguration. Wolff writes [my emphasis]:
Pivoting from Trump himself, Bannon plunged on with the Trump agenda. “Day one we’re moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. Netanyahu’s all-in. Sheldon”—Adelson, the casino billionaire and far-right Israel defender—“is all-in. We know where we’re heading on this … Let Jordan take the West Bank, let Egypt take Gaza. Let them deal with it. Or sink trying.”
“Where’s Donald on this?” asked Ailes, the clear implication being that Bannon was far out ahead of his benefactor.
“He’s totally onboard.”
On December 6, the Trump White House, marking a huge shift in U.S. policy, recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and declared its intention to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Past presidents refused to move the embassy on grounds that it would upset potential talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators and thwart efforts to achieve a two-state solution, but Adelson publicly pushed the White House to make the move.
Earlier this week, Trump went even further, tweeting that he had “taken Jerusalem off [the negotiating] table,” effectively making a unilateral decision about a key issue that previous administrations had maintained could only be decided in talks between Palestinian and Israeli negotiators.
But Trump’s biggest supporter wasn’t pleased with the administration’s slowness to fulfill its campaign promise.
Adelson, who once accused Palestinians of existing “to destroy Israel,” was reportedly “furious” with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in May for suggesting in a Meet The Press interview that moving the embassy should be contingent on the peace process, a position consistent with previous administrations. Axios reported:
[S]ources say the Las Vegas billionaire doesn’t buy the argument that the embassy move should be contingent on the peace process. He has told Trump that Palestinians are impossible negotiating partners and make demands that Israel can never meet.
Adelson and his wife Miriam spent more than $80 million on Republicans in 2016, and he gave $5 million to Trump’s inauguration.
Adelson even used his own newspaper, the Las Vegas Review Journal, to telegraph his displeasure with Trump’s slowness to deliver on the promised embassy move. “The Adelsons reportedly have been disappointed in Trump’s failure to keep a campaign pledge to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem on his first day in office,” according to an article published in October. But as Wolff quotes Bannon saying last January, that may have been more than a campaign promise. It may have been a personal promise to Adelson in exchange for his support.
Bannon’s characterization of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and casino billionaire Adelson as the two most important individuals steering U.S. policy on a sensitive matter is a shift from the independence Trump touted as a candidate.
Iran is another issue where Adelson’s influence can be felt. Adelson also proposes deploying a nuclear weapon against Iran and vehemently opposes the Iran nuclear deal (known as the JCPOA). During the campaign, Trump called the JCPOA “the stupidest deal of all time” and told an American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee audience, “My number-one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.” In the middle of January, Trump will face a deadline to reimpose sanctions, potentially in violation of the JCPOA, or waive the sanctions. Here, too, Trump may well reveal that he made a commitment to adopt a hawkish foreign policy in the Middle East in exchange for Adelson’s support.
Photo: Steve Bannon (Wikimedia Commons)