Israel-Palestinian Relations in the Coming Trump Era

by Naomi Dann

The Trump era is likely to accelerate the end of U.S. primacy as the main arbiter of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. The upcoming French Peace Conference, coming just ahead of the inauguration of Donald Trump, is the next milestone towards the end of U.S. leadership on the issue.

There is every indication that the Trump administration will give Israel an even freer hand to pursue its expansionist agenda. Trump has surrounded himself with advisers on Israel who reject the idea of the two-state solution, including settlement funder David Friedman as the newly appointed ambassador to Israel. The Trump administration has promised to move the new U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, which will give a green light to Israel’s annexation despite an international consensus that Jerusalem is a shared city. Following the international community’s censure of Israeli settlements and Kerry’s subsequent speech, Trump tweeted “Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!”

In the context of a waning peace process that has been more process than peace, Palestinian leaders have for sometime been “internationalizing” the conflict by pursuing diplomatic status in international forums and engaging bodies like the International Criminal Court. The passage of UNSC Resolution 2334 by a vote of 14-0, with the abstention of the U.S., was a sign of U.S. isolation from the international consensus. In this context, the French peace initiative, although unlikely to result in anything particularly concrete in the face of an Israeli boycott, is yet another sign that the baton has passed from the hands of the U.S.

This is just as well, for the U.S. has never been an honest broker. It has always approached the issue through the prism of security interests and maintaining Israel’s dominance rather than how to get both parties to a just and equitable solution that provides rights and justice for all people.

The speech Kerry gave following the UNSC vote was unprecedented for its recognition of Israel as the aggressor in its abuse of Palestinian rights. He talked about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. He made it clear that settlement expansion has nothing to do with Israel’s security, explaining how Israel has already expropriated much of Area C, the bulk of the West Bank. And Kerry broke new ground with his naming of the Nakba and the plight of Palestinian refugees.

But for Palestinians who’ve lived under these conditions for far too long, John Kerry’s strongly worded speech was too little too late. “Separate and unequal” is not on the horizon. It has been the reality for Palestinians for decades now.

Later this month the Israeli Knesset will consider a proposal to annex the settlement of Maale Adumim, a step in the agenda of Greater Israel proponents to annex the West Bank incrementally. As Mike Omer-Man explains at +972 Magazine, the threat of the annexation of the West Bank should be taken seriously this time around for two main reasons: the incoming Trump administration and Netanyahu’s effort to stay in power. If Israel goes through with blatant steps to annex the West Bank, it will become even clearer that the state is democratic only for Jews, forcing both the international community and the U.S. to ask themselves whether they support a civil rights struggle to demand equal rights for Palestinians within the one state.

Israel’s settlement construction activity has already laid the groundwork for such a piecemeal annexation, but it is the framework laid out by the now moribund Oslo Accords that drew the blueprint. The Oslo Accords divided the West Bank into three administrative cantons, allocating civil and security control to Palestinians only within the major population centers of Area A and putting the bulk of the territory (Area C) under full Israeli military control. As Kerry pointed out in his speech, Israel has essentially expropriated much of this land, frequently demolishing Palestinian homes, destroying Palestinian farms, allowing settlement construction, and carving up the territory with Jewish-only roads and checkpoints. These activities are destroying the contiguity of the territory supposedly reserved for a Palestinian state, creating facts on the ground that leave little room for Palestinian autonomy and freedom.

During his speech Kerry asked: “How does Israel reconcile a permanent occupation with its democratic ideals? How does the U.S. continue to defend that and still live up to our own democratic ideals?”

These are good questions. The short answer is that it can’t, and we can’t. The longer answer is the work ahead. In an era of right-wing ascendance, moderate proposals won’t be enough. The task now is to boldly demand, advocate for, and build a vision of justice. The global grassroots movement to hold Israel accountable to international law through boycotts, divestment, and sanctions offers just such a hopeful vision of international engagement at the level of civil society oriented around the three clear demands for equality, freedom, and justice. Under the Trump administration, these strategies of non-violent protest will be under even greater threat along with other civil liberties. At the same time however, as it becomes clearer that no diplomatic progress will be made with the Trump administration’s leadership, such localized strategies and campaigns at a municipal level may become more appealing.

Naomi Dann

Naomi Dann is the media coordinator at Jewish Voice for Peace, and a writer focusing on US/Israel relations, the American Jewish community and the movement for Palestinian rights. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications including The Hill, The International Business Times, The Jewish Daily Forward, +972 Magazine, and Tikkun Magazine. She holds a BA in Peace and Justice Studies from Vassar College.