The United States has been Israel’s primary benefactor since the early Cold War days, so President Donald Trump’s support of Israel is certainly reinforced by an abundance of precedent. However, his one-sided policy proposals undermine attempts to create an environment conducive to peace-building, which would disrupt Israel’s fraught relationship with Palestine and threaten to damage the peace process.
On January 22, the Israeli government authorized the construction of 566 new settlement homes in East Jerusalem, the section of Jerusalem specifically designated to Palestine, but which has been occupied by Israel since 1967. Responding to a question about the decision, Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Meir Turgeman explained that “the rules of the game have changed with Donald Trump’s arrival as president. We no longer have our hands tied as in the time of Barack Obama.”
Barack Obama became a more vocal critic of Israeli settlements toward the end of his administration—a stance that caused tension between him and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. To avoid worsening relations with the Obama administration, Israeli policymakers were instructed to shelve settlement expansion until the arrival of staunchly pro-Israel Donald Trump.
The expansion of settlements in East Jerusalem is in direct violation of the recent UN Security Council resolution, which “[condemned] all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian Territory…including East Jerusalem, including, inter alia, the construction and expansion of settlements,” and “[reaffirmed] that the establishment by Israel of settlements in Palestinian territory…has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation of international law.”
The rules of the game have changed with Donald Trump’s arrival as president.Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Meir Turgeman
The Obama administration tacitly supported the Security Council resolution, but it was roundly condemned by the Israeli government. President Trump also denounced the resolution and tweeted his support of Israel to Netanyahu.
Although Trump has never publicly expressed support for Israeli settlements, Turgeman’s remarks reflect Israel’s confidence that the Trump administration would support continued efforts to colonize Palestinian land, at least implicitly.
Trump has also repeatedly favored a policy to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Jerusalem—viewed as one of the holiest cities in the world by both Jews and Muslims—is a sharply contested issue in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict because both states consider the city their rightful capital.
The international community decided to shelve the Jerusalem issue and negotiate its status at a later stage in the peace process. Despite Israel’s official recognition of Jerusalem as its capital, most foreign governments send their diplomatic missions to Tel Aviv to avoid harming relations with Palestine.
But a move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would amount to implicit recognition of the city as Israel’s capital. It would also recognize Israel’s right to the holy city—and not Palestine’s—which would be considered extremely hostile.
The threat is so severe that Palestinians have protested the proposal in the hundreds, while Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas warned Trump that he would consider revoking Palestine’s recognition of Israel if the move proceeds.
The recognition of Israel by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in the 1990s was a monumental development in the peace process that demonstrated Palestine’s acceptance of Israel’s right to exist—a major concession that broke with decades of Palestinian policy. The revocation of diplomatic recognition would undo more than two decades of progress. It would also force Israel to react defensively, likely reigniting large-scale violence between the rival states.
Of course, Trump’s support of Israel is certainly not unique, and it adheres closely to US foreign policy dating back to the 1960s. Still, we can’t ignore what effect the type of uncompromising support advocated by Trump will have on the peace process.
Trump’s policy initiatives threaten to unravel decades of meaningful progress toward peace. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict sits at the center of violence in the Middle East, and peace in Palestine is a necessary prerequisite before peace can be achieved in the rest of the region.
If Trump proceeds with his current pro-Israel stance, the future of peace in the Middle East is quite dismal.