What to expect from a Trump presidency for Palestine or the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? A few speculations.
In the beginning of the campaign, Trump was criticized by the pro-Israeli lobby in the United States for saying he was a sort of ‘neutral guy’ regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. After that he toed the line of all other presidential candidates and started to use his familiar hyperboles in expressing support for Israel, even willing to increase the 38 billion over 10 years in military and economic aid that Obama aranged.
He announced he wanted to bring the American embassy to Jerusalem and would declare that Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel. However, we know that in the past all American presidential candidates came back from such promises the moment they became president. Though now his daughter Ivanka, part of his inner political circle, says that he is ‘100%’ serious.
Trump’s ideology, if that is the right word, may give hints about what to expect. He is the type of conservative or reactionary who thinks in terms of American or western ‘bullworks’ to be protected against terrorism, especially by closing borders: the Wall with Mexico, the racist stop on Moslems entering the US. His thinking is binary: good guys in, bad guys out. This is the approach he will instinctively choose in regard to Israel, considered to be a western bastion of good guys in an unpredictable Middle East.
The Israeli Wall will be for him a model for the Mexican wall. Security cooperation with Israel will flourish. He will buy Israel’s argument that a Palestinian state will be a base for terrorism or dictatorship. Trump’s advisers are pro-settlement and the platform of the Republican party does not anymore speak of a Palestinian state. He will get support from his political backers at home, among them Adelson, the American casino billionaire who is close to the Likud and whose large-scale funding projects are aimed to prevent a Palestinian state and expand settlements. Human rights, let alone a just peace, will not be a priority. The Palestinians in Arab countries will be forgotten.
At the same time, his overall purpose will be ‘stability’ in the Middle East, understood as business-like management of problems and conflicts. He is expected to develop such stability through deals with an international of ‘strong’ leaders: Putin (‘I like that guy’), Netanyahu (‘terrific guy’), Sisi, the president of Egypt (‘fantastic guy’), and who knows, Asad as well. The human rights and democracy orientations of these strong leaders are not relevant for him, but rather how effective they are in dealing with terrorism, defined as Islamic terrorism, and of course excluding state terrorism.
Out of this orientation toward top-down stability, he may at one point in the future come into conflict with Israel when this need for stability contradicts an Israeli demand for supporting particular projects. In his wish to maintain maximum manoevrability (an American president has a very large freedom of action in matters of foreign policy), his momentary need to posture as a ‘neutral guy’ might serve him at times more than just obeying the pro-Israeli lobby in the US. He will also not want to be treated by Netanyahu as Obama was treated - remember Netanyahu’s speech in Congress against Obama’s policy toward Iran.
What would that imply for the near future? I think he will not be going to move the American embassy to Jerusalem. That would simply enlarge the number of ‘problems’ in the Middle East he has to deal with, and it will clash with his stability orientation and need for international allies including Europe. I guess he will allow Israel to work gradually and under the radar to continue its projects: the settlement enterprise, a practical (instead of a formally declared) annexation of areas C in the West Bank, prevention of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, and isolation of Jerusalem from the Palestinian West Bank.
In other words, his policy will not be terribly different from present American policies. He may not bother about the expansion of settlements to the north-east of Jerusalem, which will effectively prevent any viable Palestinian state. He may refrain from criticizing settlements, just trying to bury the issue.
In this light (rather darkness), it will be more than ever the task of international civil society to bring out Israel’s apartheid policy to the attention of the world, for instance with an eye to the commemoration of 50 years of occupation next year. Next or parallel task will be to promote strategies of pressuring Israel, so as to save Palestinians as well as Israel itself from a human rights disaster and political dead-end street.
Toine van Teeffelen
Educational advisor AEI-Open Windows
10 November 2016