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Trump is the president settlers could only dream of

Although U.S. policy toward Israeli settlements has fluctuated over time, successive American officials have consistently taken a dim view of the settlement movement. Trump and his advisors may change all that very soon.

By Derek Davison

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump. (Marc Nozell/CC BY 2.0)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump. (Marc Nozell/CC BY 2.0)

Although President-elect Donald Trump and his foreign policy team are only beginning to develop their agenda for his coming administration, his surprising election on Tuesday may already be having an impact on Israel’s West Bank settlement policy. On Thursday, Jason Greenblatt, co-chairman of the Trump campaign’s Israel Advisory Committee, told Israel’s Army Radio that “it is certainly not Mr. Trump’s view that settlement activities should be condemned and that it is an obstacle for peace, because it is not an obstacle for peace.” Later, Israeli Science Minister Ofir Akunis, also speaking on Army Radio, “called for a renewed wave of settlement construction,” according to the Associated Press.

Greenblatt’s insistence notwithstanding, Israel’s West Bank settlements are a tremendous obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace. Liberal Jewish advocacy group J Street calls them “one of the starkest threats to the two-state solution,” and a simple look at a map of the West Bank explains why. Israeli settlers either occupy or control over 40 percent of the territory in the West Bank, including the roads that now connect the settlements to one another, and the distribution of the settlements throughout the West Bank makes the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state geographically impossible. International consensus holds that the settlements are violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibiting forced population transfers from occupied territories, and thus illegal.

It’s not even possible to reconcile Greenblatt’s claim with the comments of pro-settlement politicians inside Israel. In his Army Radio interview on Thursday, Akunis said, “We need to think how we move forward now when the administration in Washington, the Trump administration and his advisers, are saying that there is no place for a Palestinian state.” If Trump’s advisers are green-lighting new settlements in Trump’s name, and Israeli cabinet ministers take that to mean Trump believes “there is no place for a Palestinian state,” then clearly those settlements are very much an obstacle to peace.

Trump on settlements

This is not the first time Trump has been identified as pro-settlements. In an interview with the Daily Mail in May, Trump rejected the idea of a pause in settlement construction:

Asked whether there should be a pause in new construction—which the Obama administration has pressured Netanyahu’s government to observe in order to bring the Palestinians to the negotiating table—Trump responded: ‘No, I don’t think it is, because I think Israel should have—they really have to keep going. They have to keep moving forward.’

‘No, I don’t think there should be a pause,’ Trump said. ‘Look: Missiles were launched into Israel, and Israel, I think, never was properly treated by our country. I mean, do you know what that is, how devastating that is?’

Right-wing Israeli settlers demonstrate after marching from Ma'aleh Adumim settlement to the E1 area on the eastern outskirts of Jerusalem, during a protest calling for an expansion of Jewish settlements in E1, West Bank, February 13, 2014. (Activestills)

Right-wing Israeli settlers demonstrate after marching from Ma’aleh Adumim settlement to the E1 area on the eastern outskirts of Jerusalem, during a protest calling for an expansion of Jewish settlements in E1, West Bank, February 13, 2014. (Activestills)

In the same interview, Trump said that he would “love to negotiate peace. I think that, to me, is the all-time negotiation.” But given that the Palestinian Authority has repeatedly made a settlement freeze a precondition to peace talks, it’s not clear how Trump imagines that he’ll be able to negotiate peace in light of his position on settlements.

Although U.S. policy toward Israeli settlements has fluctuated over time, and Washington’s actions have never matched its rhetoric, American officials have nevertheless consistently taken a dim view of the settlement movement. The Obama administration has been a harsher critic than previous administrations, though there too its rhetoric was never followed up by action. Witness the administration’s decision to go ahead and shower Israel with billions of dollars in new military aid despite the Israeli government’s provocative decision to announce new settlement construction shortly after the aid deal was reached.

Trump’s advisors

Trump’s pro-settlement views are not surprising given the advisers he surrounded himself with during the presidential campaign. Foremost among them was Greenblatt, the Trump Organization’s chief legal officer, whose qualifications as an adviser on Israeli-Palestinian affairs are questionable at best. David Friedman, another lawyer and Trump friend who also served as one of Trump’s leading Israel advisers, is a loud advocate for settlement construction who uncritically regurgitated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s up-is-down assertion, made in a September video address, that Palestinian opposition to the settlements amounted to ethnic cleansing.

Walid Phares, one of Trump’s top Middle East advisers, has long been a favorite of Washington’s pro-Israel lobby. Newt Gingrich, one of Trump’s top surrogates and an early favorite to serve as his secretary of state, notably referred to the Palestinian people as “invented” in a 2011 interview and has argued in favor of unchecked settlement construction as an Israeli “bargaining advantage” in peace talks with the Palestinians (if there’s one thing Israel needs in its negotiations with the Palestinians, it’s another bargaining advantage).

Sheldon Adelson embraces Benjamin Netanyahu. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Sheldon Adelson embraces Benjamin Netanyahu. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

But none of these advisers is likely to have as much influence over Trump’s thinking as Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire Republican donor who spent $25 million on getting Trump elected. Adelson is currently among a group of defendants that a group of Palestinians and Palestinian-Americans is suing for $34.5 billion for their support of the settlement movement. Adelson has also reportedly spent millions of dollars to combat the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to create economic leverage to end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.

The promise of Adelson’s financial support was enough to get Trump to shift his rhetoric on Israel-Palestine almost completely between the primary, when he insisted that he would be “neutral” in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and the general election campaign. Trump has moved so far in the pro-Israel direction that he’s now positioned well outside historical American norms on a range of Israel-Palestine issues, including the question of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Some of the most right-wing members of Netanyahu’s government are positively giddy at what Trump’s election means for the Palestinian cause. Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads the hardline Jewish Home party and is seen as seeking to be prime minister one day, said the idea of a Palestinian state was now over:

Trump’s victory is an opportunity for Israel to immediately retract the notion of a Palestinian state in the centre of the country, which would hurt our security and just cause,” Bennett said. “This is the position of the president-elect…The era of a Palestinian state is over.

Derek Davison is a Washington-based researcher and writer on international affairs and American politics. This article is reprinted, with permission, from Lobelog.com.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Bruce Gould

      J Street has an 8 minute video (halfway down the page) which illustrates nicely why there isn’t going to be a Palestinian state (also see the map mentioned in the article): http://jstreet.org/policy/settlements/

      Anyone who thinks there’s a possibility of an independent Palestinian state is living in a dreamworld. The Israelis will set up low-wage industrial parks in the West Bank to keep the Palestinians alive and the whole apartheid-like nature of the enterprise will become more and more apparent.

      Reply to Comment
      • Grandpa Frost

        The Arabs are free to leave if it’s so bad for them. Of course, they won’t. Everyone knows that they do a lot better under Israeli rule than under their own. Just look at pretty much every place in the Arab world. They don’t need a state. Having a state of their own is a lot of responsibility. More than they can bear.

        Reply to Comment
        • Carmen

          If anyone should leave, it should be you and yours grandpa frost; just go back to europe, australia, south africa, north or south america if you find it so hard to live with the people who were already here when you arrived. Of course that won’t happen, but the next best thing would be for you and yours go move back into ‘israel’ and get the hell out of palestine.

          Reply to Comment
          • Itshak Gordin Halevy

            Dear Carmen,
            Please read the Torah in which we Jew believe. On the other hand, there has never been any “Palestinian State”. Nobody heard about the “Palestinian People” before the 60′ Carmen, why don’t you write about the 800’000 Jews living for centuries in the Arab countries who were persecuted and obliged lo leave their homes without any compensation. For your information I am one of them.

            Reply to Comment
          • Carmen

            Thanks Itshak, but we’ve done this already.

            Itshak Gordin Halevy
            Tuesday
            November 1, 2016

            Carmen, The Torah is for us Jews the main thing. Ignoring it is a bad mistake. That is why we will never leave any part of Eretz Israel. That is why we build Jewish cities in Yehuda and Shomron. For your information our birth rate is now much higher than the “Palestinian” one. Do you know, Carmen, that there has never been any Palestinian State? Do you know that nobody heard about any “Palestinian people” before the 60′?

            Reply to Comment

            carmen
            Wednesday
            November 2, 2016

            “For your information our birth rate is now much higher than the “Palestinian” one. Do you know, Carmen, that there has never been any Palestinian State? Do you know that nobody heard about any “Palestinian people” before the 60′?”

            ‘Palestine’ is an ancient name, for a land of many cultures – Mondoweiss
            mondoweiss.net/2013/06/palestine-ancient-cultures

            Higher birth rates? I’d attribute that to a lack of food insecurity, adequate and safe housing, clean drinking water, quick and easy access to health care, and the IOF not spraying your crops, but I imagine you would disagree. I’ve got a clearer picture of what you believe are facts, and those ‘facts’ are contingent upon the elimination of the people who were here before you were. Negating the existence of a people, their history and their ties to the land that is coveted by the other, in this case yourself, has historically been the cornerstone of many genocides.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Grandpa Frost

      It’s time for a complete turnout in the world’s attitude towards the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria. It’s painfully ludicrous that they are seen as an obstacle to peace. The Jews are indigenous to all of the land of Israel, including Judea and Samaria. The Arabs on the other hand have a history of invasion, subjugation and dispossession of indigenous populations in the Middle East. Long gone are many of the indigenous cultures of Lebanon, Syria, Egypt (and the rest of North Africa) just to name a few. This process goes on to this very day. The rights of Berbers, Assyrians, Kurds (especially the Yezidis), black Africans and yes, the Jews are systematically violated. Donald Trump’s presidency offers a ray of hope to all those who are being horribly mistreated all over the Middle East.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Lewis from Afula

      I agree with Grandpa Frost. If the Arabs don’t like living in Judea and Samaria, they are free to leave. The adjacent peaceful utopias of Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, Libya, Tunisia etc are awaiting for them.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Richard Lightbown

      “a pause in new construction—which the Obama administration has pressured Netanyahu’s government to observe”

      Utter tosh. If there had been pressure Netanyahu would have wilted.

      “American officials have nevertheless consistently taken a dim view of the settlement movement. The Obama administration has been a harsher critic than previous administrations, though there too its rhetoric was never followed up by action.”

      Exactly, Israel doesn’t give a stuff about people taking a dim view. The fact is Obama was a coward who stood by and let it happen. Let’s stop pretending that any US President since Eisenhower has ever put any real pressure on Israel apart from a couple of blips under the Bushes senior and junior. Sure it promises to get worse from here on but can we lay off giving the Democrats a free ride? Obama’s record is a stinker on Palestine and Clinton might have been even worse than Trump.

      Reply to Comment
      • Tommy Goldberg

        Maybe so. But if the Israeli government continues on this ill-advised course, before long the United States will take a VERY dim view and, if that doesn’t help, possibly even an EXTREMELY dim view.

        That will surely get Jerusalem’s attention, don’t you think?

        Reply to Comment
        • Richard Lightbown

          At least I know you are being facetious Tommy, but I don’t know what cloud cuckoo land I_like_ike inhabits. That post is through the looking glass.

          Reply to Comment
    5. i_like_ike52

      The reason the US ultimately doesn’t do what you want to Israel is because it can’t, and it can’t because the Palestinians refuse to consider making a compromise peace agreement with Israel. If a REAL, realistic offer were presented by the Palestinians (and this means giving up the right of return of the Palestinian refugees) the US could twist the arm of any Israeli gov’t, even one of the Right to accept it because the US would say “see, they are offering you real peace, you can’t turn it down”, and internal Israeli public pressure would also play in. The problem for you is that such a Palestinian offer never has been made and never will be made. Thus, the current situation.

      Reply to Comment