by Thomas Buonomo
Donald Trump’s policies toward Israel and Palestine will exacerbate conflict in the Middle East, increasing the probability that the United States will become more militarily engaged there. His promise to relocate the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and his acceptance of continuing Israeli territorial expansion undermining the viability of a two-state solution—reflected in the remarkably tepid and equivocal language of a recent White House statement on Israeli settlement activities—will seriously compromise U.S. national interests as well as its partnerships in the Middle East.
President Trump’s decision in December to nominate David Friedman as US ambassador to Israel indicates a serious intent to abandon the two-state framework for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Friedman is a vociferous opponent of the two-state framework, going so far as to grotesquely compare Jewish supporters of it with Jewish collaborators with the Nazis.
Vice President Mike Pence, meanwhile, has described Jerusalem in religious terms as “the eternal, undivided capital of the Jewish state.” Trump himself has described Jerusalem as Israel’s “eternal capital” and has vowed to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, breaking precedent with five decades of successive U.S. administrations since Israel captured Jerusalem in 1967. The Trump administration would have the overwhelming support of Congress if it decided to fulfill this pledge.
Trump also criticized the Obama administration’s decision not to veto UN Security Council Resolution 2334, adopted on December 23, 2016. This resolution reaffirms in international law the parameters of the two-state framework between Israel and a state of Palestine, already recognized by 137 of the 195 sovereign states in the world.
Trump’s apparent intention to abandon the two-state framework, explicitly or implicitly by failing to exert pressure on both parties to accept it, will greatly increase the probability of conflict among Israel, Iran, and the US. It will also probably provoke a regional realignment away from the US, which Russia, China, and Europe will exploit to their advantage.
Most importantly, Saudi Arabia, which in 2002 led the Arab Peace Initiative, will be compelled to take action or further risk the legitimacy of the monarchy. Saudi acquiescence to such a provocative move on the part of the US would otherwise reinforce in the minds of the kingdom’s Wahhabi religious establishment that the monarchy has become too compromised by its association with the U.S. If that belief takes root within the security forces, the monarchy may find itself threatened from within. Global oil prices, upon which the U.S. economy remains highly dependent, may be severely impacted as a result.
Iran refuses to accept the legitimacy of Israel within any territorial boundaries and has since 1982 built up its proxy force Hezbollah in Lebanon with the intent to annihilate it as a political entity. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, did offer to reconsider the issue in a secret diplomatic initiative in May 2003, but the Bush administration, then riding high on prematurely declared missions accomplished in Iraq and Afghanistan, disregarded it. In any case, U.S. abandonment of the two-state framework is hardly likely to improve the chances of engaging in constructive discussions with Iran on this issue.
A break with the two-state framework would reaffirm regional perceptions that the U.S. and Israel will continue to ignore the interests of the Palestinians and the Muslim world unless they face security consequences. As a result, the governments of the region are likely to increase their passive or active support for militant groups targeting both countries.
Palestinian Authority officials have explicitly warned that they will revoke their recognition of Israel, declared in 1993, if the Trump administration follows through on its stated intent.
Jordan and Egypt—critical U.S. counter-terrorism partners—are also likely to reduce security cooperation with the US. Given its special status as guardian of the Muslim religious sites in Jerusalem and the kingdom’s majority Palestinian population, Jordan will face serious pressure to respond, perhaps including by annulling its 1993 peace treaty with Israel. In January, Jordan’s minister of information described a U.S. transition of its embassy to Jerusalem as a “red line” that would “inflame the Islamic and Arab streets” and act as a “gift to extremists.”
If the Trump administration proceeds with an explicit or de facto abandonment of the two-state framework for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the president will find it increasingly difficult to fulfill his campaign promises to keep the US out of unnecessary conflicts.
Thomas Buonomo is a geopolitical risk analyst with Stratas Advisors. His views are his own and do not represent those of Stratas Advisors. Photo: David Friedman