The Dream Palace of the Americans

Why Ceding Land Will Not Bring Peace

From his lips to God’s ears: Trump at the Western Wall, May 2017 Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

The Trump administration’s Middle East policies have been roundly attacked by the U.S. foreign policy establishment. There are various lines of criticism, including ones concerning its approaches to Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, but the administration’s gravest sin is generally held to be its support for Israel. By moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, blessing Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, and other gestures, the Trump team is said to have overturned half a century of settled U.S. policy, abandoned the Palestinians, and killed the two-state solution.

These are serious charges. But on close inspection, they turn out to say more about the hysteria of the prosecutors than the guilt of the defendant. Some of President Donald Trump’s policies are new, some are not, and it is too early to see much impact. So why all the hue and cry? Because the administration openly insists on playing power politics rather than trying to move the world beyond them. Trump’s real crime is challenging people’s illusions—and that is an unforgivable offense.


Israel’s conflict with the Arabs has long functioned as a screen onto which outsiders project their own psychodramas. Actual Middle East politics, meanwhile, churns on relentlessly, following the same laws of political physics as politics everywhere else: the strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must.

The United States entered the regional geopolitical game in earnest during World War II, drawn in by the strategic importance of the oil recently discovered under the Arabian Desert and elsewhere. With postwar power came regional responsibility, however, and Washington eventually had to decide how to deal with the messy residue of the British mandate for Palestine.

In 1948, U.S. President Harry Truman came under domestic political pressure to recognize a soon-to-be independent Israel. The foreign policy establishment opposed the move, arguing that U.S. support for Zionism would alienate the Arab states and drive them into the arms

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