Zell with young Trump campaigners
Zell with young Trump campaignersYoni Kempinski

The Republican Party’s Israel branch is slated to open a campaign office in the town of Karnei Shomron in Samaria, the first time a major US political party has ever operated in Judea and Samaria.

In an interview with Arutz Sheva, attorney Marc Zell, a representative of the GOP’s Israeli branch, explained the importance of the event and what it means for the 2016 presidential election and the Republican Party.

Zell began by noting that presidential candidate Donald Trump, working together with party activists and after consultations with Zell, had pushed for changes in the GOP’s platform, including explicit opposition to the division of Jerusalem and removal of references to Israel as an “occupier” in Judea and Samaria.

Noting plans for additional offices in Gush Etzion and Beitar Illit in the Judea region, Zell said the changes marked a tremendous accomplishment for the pro-Israel community. Zell added that when questioned regarding Israeli construction in Judea and Samaria, Trump responded saying that where Israel chooses to build is an internal Israeli matter, and that the US should not intervene.

“So what we’ve done in Karnei Shomron is perfectly natural,” said Zell, “just as in Gush Etzion and Beitar Illit.”

“Trump calls them as he sees them,” said Zell. “Every time the US interferes - and we saw it within the Obama administration, which has been the most hostile towards us – it was unsuccessful. Israel is here and this is our issue. If we can reach an understanding with the Palestinians, fine, but if we cannot, we will decide, and not the Americans. They don’t dictate to us what to do.”

“I say that, in contrast to all of the traditional wisdom, Jewish settlement of Judea and Samaria is not a barrier to peace, rather it is just the opposite.”

Regarding the Republican nominee’s views on Israel and the future of Judea and Samaria, Zell emphasized Trump’s pragmatism in confronting the issue. In contrast to the popular persona projected by the nominee, Zell described Trump as attentive and reticent.

“It interests him a great deal, but his approach is very pragmatic. He doesn’t dictate. He listens. He is especially open to the Israeli view, because we are allies of the US. He said that as well.”

Zell was quick to clarify that he was giving his own personal opinion, and could not speak for the candidate, but noted Trump’s ties to the pro-Israel community.

“I don’t know what he will decide after, God-willing, he gets to the White House, but I can say that at this point he doesn’t want to respond. In addition, I want to point out that he has a policy staff and ties with Israel, and both chairmen of the staff are Jews – one of them, David Friedman is director of the group American Friends of the Beit El Yeshiva. In other words, it couldn’t be clearer, Trump won’t tell us to do in relation to the Land of Israel, especially in the heart of Israel.”

“I’m speaking as an individual member of the Republican Party and not in the name of the party or the future policies of Trump regarding Judea and Samaria. But what I can say is that based on what was expressed in the platform, the Republicans won’t dictate to Israel how to manage the country. They will give us the right to decide our own future – whether to leave, God-forbid, Judea and Samaria, or to apply Israeli sovereignty or to maintain the status quo. All the options are open [for Israel].”

While some have expressed skepticism over Trump’s pro-Israel credentials, noting statements of support from other candidates, including Hillary Clinton, Zell claimed most Americans living Israel appeared to be backing Trump.

“Based on the responses we’ve had in the field, the vast majority of Americans that we meet [in Israel] are supporting Trump. Not everyone is thrilled with him or with his style or way of expressing himself, but everyone understands that between the Republican Party, with the most pro-Israel platform in history, and the Democrats under Clinton and Tim Kaine, the difference is night and day. The Republicans love Israel, while many Democrats do not. If, God-forbid, Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine make it to the White House, I think it will mean not only a continuation of the Obama years – which have been the worst years for Israel – but an even worse situation.”