The Boomerang Impact of Trump’s Israel-Palestine Policies

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

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  1. John O of the British spelling, there were no “millions of Europeans and Americans” who stole anyone’s land. The population of Israel in 1948 was 806,000. Equal numbers of Arabs immigrated to Palestine in the 19th and 20th century before 1948. They came after the Jews started to build up the wasteland. As for who are the indigenous people, we will disagree whether it was the Jews who were there and built a country before the time of Jesus and were dispersed by force OR the Arabs who imposed Islam by military force and conquest.

    JC, the “international community” has accepted many annexations, occupations and forced border adjustments since WW2. The opposition to this one was built up and financed by the Arab World which, as a I stated, has lost its energy to continue that and in fact is losing influence anyway as the world moves away from dependence on the one thing of value the Arabs have produced in the last 100 years. No, not suicide belts; oil.

  2. @Jeffrey Wilens

    What evidence do you have that Palestine (at least you have now stopped putting quotation marks around the country’s name) was a wasteland?

    As to your assertions about Jews and Arabs – one group building a country 2000 years ago and then another conquering it several hundreds of years later, you clearly have little idea of either history or genetics.

    In your reply to James Canning, you have again demonstrated that you are what I said in a previous BTL discussion – a racist.

  3. Jeffrey, name one European country that does not regard the Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank as illegal.

  4. As I assume you are aware, Jeffrey, representatives of 70 countries met in Paris recently, regarding how to achieve an end to the Israeli occupation.

  5. JC, not sure what your point is. The Euros do regard the settlements as illegal but who cares, they sure do not. It is all posturing to try to placate their Muslims. However, nationalist movements which are generally either neutral or sympathetic to the Israeli position regarding the settlements are increasing in strength in Europe and now control America. Also, the Euros now know the USA is much more supportive of the Israeli view than under Obama. The Euros need the USA more than they need the Arabs.

    The Paris “peace” conference completely failed, but I don’t mind such meetings. They all end in a proclamation that Israel has the right to live side by side a peace Palestinian state in the West Bank. However, neither the Euros nor anyone else can deliver this “peaceful Palestinian people” it is all a waste of time.

    Everyone telling Israel what risks it should take for “peace,” cannot deliver the Palestinians or convert them into a peaceful people who will accept a Jewish state. Nor can they guarantee a newly-created state of Palestine would not be similar to Gaza or Hezbollah controlled South Lebanon. I’m not sure why the Jewish people should again put their fate in the hands of European nations that either committed genocide or did little to protect them from genocide.

    The feeling right now in the USA and increasingly Europe (and already in Russia and China) is to keep Muslims (at least certain ones) out and to neutralize any threat from Jihadism. It is hard to see how those feeling that way are going to put much effort to force Israel to accept another dysfunctional Muslim state right in its gut.

    Abbas is very old. He could easily die in the next four years. I don’t know if the PLO has a rational and viable successor. If not, there will probably be a civil war with Hamas in the West Bank. That won’t end well for the Palestinians. Or maybe somehow the Palestinians will produce a non-corrupt leader who will eliminate Hamas and similar groups, agree to a confederation with Jordan and sign a peace treaty with Israel. In that scenario, virtually all of the Palestinians will remain in the West Bank, citizens of the confederation with whatever voting rights that entails and benefiting from Israel’s superior economy.

    It will take a generation of education before there will be any real trust between the peoples but they will live in peace. But I really think this is the Palestinian’s last chance.

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