Trump just killed off any hope for a peace process between Israeli and Palestinians — and undermined US interests in the process.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced this week that the United States is reversing a 40-year-old policy– one held under Republican and Democratic presidents alike — that Israeli settlements in the West Bank violate international law. That longstanding view is one held by the international community as well, and the UN has repeatedly said that the settlements violate the Geneva Conventions.
The settlements are civilian housing on Palestinian land that Israel occupied during the six-day war in 1967 — territory over which Palestinians expect to assert full sovereignty in any peace deal. If thousands of Israeli families live on that land, it will make it much more difficult to broker such a deal.
The justifications for the Israeli settlements are both strategic and religious. Forces in Israel that don’t want peace but total domination — the Israeli right, including Benjamin Netanyahu, who is currently fighting to maintain his grip on power — see the settlements as a way to expand Israeli territory and push Palestinians into increasingly harsh conditions with dwindling options.
Religious fundamentalists in Israel, supported by many American evangelicals, believe the right of Israeli Jews to these territories is God-given. For evangelicals, the return of Jews to Israel is believed to instigate the Rapture and the second coming of Christ (an inconvenient eventuality for Jews, who would not fare well in this scenario).
In any case, this move isn’t about peace or regional stability. It’s about catering to extreme elements in Israel and the United States. And it’s a part of the Trump administration’s longstanding policy of targeting and marginalizing Muslim communities around the world — more red meat for a conservative American base in which some despise Muslims and many believe Islam is incompatible with American values.
It may fire up Republican voters at home, but it’s disastrous for building trust abroad — why would nations believe the US to be an honest and fair broker if we systematically reverse our longstanding policies and seem motivated by religious animus?
A two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been moving ever farther into the distance for years now, but the Trump administration may have finally killed off any glimmer of optimism. Palestinians who yearn for their own state rightly see this shift in US policy as the Americans putting their thumb on the scale toward total Israeli dominance — not exactly the conditions to bring about peace.
Progressive Israelis are worried, too, rightly understanding that this moves Israel further away from its stated democratic values, potentially undermining the entire project of a Jewish homeland. That is because a one-state solution that encompasses both Israel and Palestinian territories would have to systematically deny citizenship to and disenfranchise a large swath of the Palestinian population in order to maintain a Jewish majority.
It would be hard to call a country that disenfranchises a majority of its population based on ethnicity anything other than an apartheid state. And yet that is direction Israel is headed — and where Trump’s foreign policy is pushing it.
Both sides live in fear of violence. Palestinians live without a full set of basic rights, their ability to move freely constrained, and their hopes for the future repeatedly stymied.
The United States has never been neutral in the conflict, but we have at least not been blatantly interested in undermining the potential for peace. Now we are actively impeding the possibility of brokering a peace deal and ensuring that all Israelis and Palestinians alike can live safely, securely and with dignity. We have become a force against peace and stability.
This, sadly, is where Donald Trump has taken us. It’s yet another in a litany of examples of Trump undermining America and weakening our nation’s standing in the world — and one more reason why the 2020 election will be one of the most important in history.