BAZ RATNER / REUTERS The writing’s on the wall: in Tel Aviv, November 2016.

Trump and the Holy Land

First, Do No Harm

Every U.S. president since Harry Truman has sought peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Every president since Lyndon Johnson has opposed the building of Jewish settlements on land that Israel occupied in June 1967 and has supported a diplomatic solution by which the Jewish state would trade much of that land for a secure and lasting peace. And every president since Bill Clinton has worked for a two-state solution under which Israel would enjoy security and genuine acceptance in the Middle East and the Palestinians would run their own affairs and prosper in a viable, independent state.

Achieving these goals has never been easy, and Washington’s attempts to put the Israelis and the Palestinians on the path to peace have regularly been stymied by rejectionism on both sides. Palestinian leaders have proved unable or unwilling to grasp past diplomatic opportunities, and the current Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the most right-wing in Israel’s history, represents segments of society that are fixated on a vision of an Israel that excludes Palestinian aspirations and rights. The Obama administration made a serious effort to break the impasse but failed, and the status quo is probably unsustainable. Although any new administration would find the landscape daunting, the United States’ strategic interests and moral values call for continued opposition to Israeli settlements in occupied territory, a continued insistence that the Palestinians pursue their cause through peaceful means, a continued commitment to a two-state solution, and continued attentiveness to Israel’s strategic vulnerabilities. In other words, the most basic requirement is to do no harm, thus following in the tradition of past presidents. 

Donald Trump, it must be said, looks like a different kind of president. In his coldness toward the vision of a Palestinian state and his indifference to the problem of settlements, he has aligned himself with Israel’s right wing, and his surprise victory gave that camp hope that their dreams of absorbing the Palestinian territories into Israel envision an alliance between the most illiberal elements of both societies, in which the United States and Israel fight their shared enemies of Iran and radical Islam, without having to worry about the niceties that concerned the Obama administration so much. President Barack Obama took the view that the construction and expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank was killing any remaining prospects for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For Israel’s hard right, killing the two-state solution is a feature, not a bug, of the new dispensation.

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