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Trump and Netanyahu have not learned from history — they're repeating it

Netanyahu and Trump believe that Israel can occupy the West Bank forever. The ‘deal of the century’ that the U.S. plans to present is based on the assumption that the Palestinians have neither the will nor the power to resist. 

By Menachem Klein

Senior Advisor Jared Kushner, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem on June 22, 2018. (Matty Stern/U.S. Embassy Jerusalem)

Senior Advisor Jared Kushner, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem on June 22, 2018. (Matty Stern/U.S. Embassy Jerusalem)

A recent exposé in the New Yorker sheds light on the formulation of the Obama and Trump administration’s Middle East policies, revealing how Netanyahu passed on Israeli intelligence about the outgoing Obama White House’s political plans to the incoming Trump administration. The article, by Adam Entous, also describes the close ties between Netanyahu and Trump, and the ways in which they have teamed up to fight Iran, though which Israel’s ties to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia were also formed.

Entous brings the reader face to face both policymaking inside the White House and the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem. This is what international diplomacy looks like unvarnished and without public relations manipulations.

There are three things we can learn for the New Yorker’s report and from reports about the recent meetings between Trump’s Middle East envoys, Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, ahead of their presentation of the “deal of the century” between Israel and the Palestinians.

Firstly, it’s bad news for the lobbyists and pundits. Obama’s White House realized late into its second term that Netanyahu was playing them — and, even then, they avoided confronting him. It is understandable why Obama decided not to confront Netanyahu openly, but it is difficult to understand why it took so long for Obama and his staff to figure out that Netanyahu was misleading them.

Similarly, John Kerry realized only very belatedly what the settlements meant for the prospects of the two state solution — after, according to Kerry, speaking with Netanyahu for at least 130 hours and flying 40 times to meet the prime minister.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a joint press conference with US Secretary of State John Kerry following their meeting in Jerusalem, December 5, 2013. (Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a joint press conference with US Secretary of State John Kerry following their meeting in Jerusalem, December 5, 2013. (Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO)

In other words, the total impact of the information published by organizations that monitor the settlements, the work of left-wing and human rights groups, the op-eds published almost daily, and the working papers prepared by the professional levels of government, was almost zero. When it came time to make decisions, awareness did not translate into policy — policy was the product of other considerations.

The conversations between lobbyists, experts, and Israeli and European think tanks with their American counterparts and diplomats of different ranks ran horizontally rather than upwards and did not matter in the crucial moments. And if this is what is was like under Obama, one can only imagine what’s happening now under Trump.

Secondly, if one wants to understand what sets the policy priorities shared by the Trump and Netanyahu administrations, one must read the comments sections — not the op-eds, working papers, or articles by international relations professors. Netanyahu and Trump, as well as their inner circles, believe that Obama “gave the Palestinians everything” and that he was “too nice to them.” Obama, they say, “threw Israel under the bus” and put its security in danger. Trump and Netanyahu say they won’t play nice or sacrifice Israel’s security; they will offer a lot less and push a lot harder. In the end, the Palestinians won’t have a choice but to accept what’s dictated to them —  and if they refuse, they’ll be punished.

American President Donald Trump speaks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and advisor Jared Kushner at the White House, May 22, 2017. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

American President Donald Trump speaks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and advisor Jared Kushner at the White House, May 22, 2017. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Even now, it is clear that Trump’s envoys have managed to enlist the Egyptian president, the Saudi crown prince, and the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates to pressure PA President Mahmoud Abbas to end his boycott of the United States and to accept Trump’s peace plan. Iran is threatening us, they tell Abbas, and we need the help of the U.S. and Israel: take the little that Trump is offering, you have nothing to lose, you are weak, Israel is strong, the U.S. is on its side.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates are three of the four members of the Arab Quartet. The fourth member, Jordan, supports Abbas’s refusal to accept any deal that deviates from the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002. Abbas trusts Jordanian King Abdullah, who has become a mediator between Abbas, on one side, and Kushner, Greenblatt, and Netanyahu, on the other. As Netanyahu and Trump’s envoys attempt to convince King Abdullah to support the U.S. and Israel’s “state-minus” proposal and to completely isolate Abbas, the Jordanian king is attempting to influence the negotiations in the opposite direction.

Thirdly, both Trump and Netanyahu believe that Israel can, and is even historically entitled to, control the West Bank forever. The solution for Gaza, according to them, will come from massive investment in infrastructure and economic redevelopment. They see the Palestinians in Gaza as lacking nationalist consciousness, desiring only to improve their quality of life: give them projects funded by the Arab countries, some of which will be built partially in Egyptian territory, and they won’t try to charge the fences in protest. If their nationalism leads them, on occasion, to act rashly — for example, the Great Return March protests or the flying of “Molotov kites” — they will be responded to with massive, not to say excessive, force as a reminder that they should give up. It’s bound to work.

Trump and Netanyahu have not learned from history — they’re repeating it. Between 1967 and 1987, the Israeli occupation, which was then relatively restrained compared to its brutality today, improved the economic situation of the Palestinians but did not weaken their nationalist aspirations. On the contrary, they began the First Intifada. The notion that guided Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton at Camp David in 2000 was that Arafat would only be willing to concede if he was forced into a corner and denied any option other than to accept Israel’s terms, backed by the U.S. This approach was captured in the picture of Ehud Barak forcing Yasser Arafat to enter before him the cabin where Clinton was waiting for them. Camp David ended without Arafat accepting the U.S. and Israel’s dictates.

At the beginning of the Second Intifada, Israeli forces fired one million bullets at Palestinian protesters, according to the then-head of Israeli intelligence. Even then, they didn’t give up.

Menachem Klein is a professor of political science at Bar Ilan University. He was an advisor to the Israeli negotiating team during the 2000 peace talks, and is one of he leading members of the Geneva Initiative. His book, Lives in Common: Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem, Jaffa and Hebron, was selected by The New Republic as one of 2014’s ‘best books for understanding our complicated world.’ This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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      • Tony Riley

        Funny that Ben (White) here pretends not to be a Jew-hater.

        Funny how +972 still pretends the Pals actually want Israel to exist.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          It’s not about what you pretend others pretend or what anyone *wants.* Why should the Palestinians *want* Israel to exist? Stop already with the fake pretense about some sort of psychotherapy of feelings and wants, which is just another form of Israeli feigned helplessness. It’s about practical arrangements on the ground. Change the behavior, the 50 year occupation and brutal subjugation, address injustices, treat people with minimal fairness and dignity for once in your lives, and the feelings will follow in the next generations. Then you can award yourself the Masters Certificate in The Psychotherapy of Wants you want but have not earned.

          Reply to Comment
      • Reality Check

        The Arabs in Israel have made 3 errors over the years:
        1. They started a civil war.
        2. They lost.
        3. Their pride and ideology does not allow them to accept that reality of loss to their “inferiors” and hence they believe they can still dictate terms of surrender to the Jews. And when that is rejected they go back to #1 and repeat the process.
        This has been repeated more or less every decade, in one form or another, for a century.
        And people like you, be you well-intentioned or with malice, simply reinforce their delusions of superiority or at least the hope for a different result and push them back to another round and another defeat.
        Sadly they are their own worst enemies, insisting on a zero sum game rather than looking for a win-win, and you are their cheerleaders on the road to disaster.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Number 1 is false.
          Number 2 is partially false–they lost the battle not the struggle and the unsolved, long festering problem is the Israelis’ as much as the Palestinians’ (actually much more the Israelis’ at this point) to solve or accept the consequences of not solving it, which will not turn out well for either party. And the Israelis could relatively easily solve it if they relinquished their zero-sum land idolatry.
          Number 3 is pure propaganda, a misleading, false rhetorical account of reality.

          Reply to Comment
          • Reality Check

            Reread your reply and reread #3. Your reposnse simply proves #3.
            Not only did the Arabs/Palestinians make 3 critical errors, they carry two terrible burdens, their leadership and “friends” as yourself who are quite willing to sacrifice them and their wellbeing on the altar of ideology and hatred of the Jews/Israelis.
            Truly sad.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            I don’t think you substantiate this. We have enough problems with unwarranted “proof” claims around here. Of course, you had to sneak in that added bit of anti-Semitizing and anti-Israelizing, the last refuge of people with nothing meaningful to say.

            Reply to Comment
        • David

          In 1947, despite massive immigration of foreign Jews, Palestinian Arab citizens made up 69% of the population & privately owned 48% of the land. Jews privately owned only 6-7%, only 30% had taken out citizenship & thousands were illegal immigrants. (The remainder was state land owned by citizens of Palestine.) However, the Partition Plan unjustly recommended Palestinians receive only 42% as a state. (The 2% of Palestine comprised of Jerusalem & Bethlehem was to be placed under international control, a corpus separatum.)

          No wonder Palestinians rejected the Partition Plan. Indeed, it proved so unworkable that when Polish born David Ben-Gurion (nee, David Gruen) et al. declared the “Jewish State” of Israel effective 15 May 1948, after Jewish forces had already dispossessed & expelled 400,000 Palestinians (e.g., 30,000 from West Jerusalem in March & a further 30,000 in May, 60,000 from Haifa in April, 75,000 from Jaffa in late April & early May), the UNGA was in the process of shelving the Partition Plan in favor of a UN Trusteeship.

          When war erupted due to necessary intervention by reluctant outnumbered/outgunned Arab state armies to stem the accelerating expulsion of Palestinians, a US proposed cease-fire was accepted by the Arab League, but rejected by Israel.

          During the war Israel seized 78% of Palestine (22% more than the Partition Plan recommended, including large portions of the proposed Palestinian state, e.g., Jaffa and Acre), expelled 400,000 more Palestinians for a total of about 800,000 (according to Walter Eytan, then Director General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry) and went on to destroy over 500 of their towns and villages, including churches, mosques and cemeteries.

          It was only the beginning of the dispossession & expulsion of the indigenous Palestinians.

          Reply to Comment