Trump and the Palestine Question: Three Scenarios

Prof. As’ad Abdul Rahman

Much talk among Israeli and Western analysts has been going on, since US President Donald Trump won the election, about the future position of the United States on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Would it be impartial? Would the American Embassy be moved to Occupied Jerusalem? Will the United States give a green light to more Jewish “settlement”/ colony construction? Can Washington turn its back on Israel? Will the US Administration declare an end to the two-state solution?

Trump’s personality has exhibited capriciousness and a tendency to run affairs with the narcissist mentality of a driven businessman. He could change his policy overnight and it appeared recently that the bragging that accompanied his campaign is a personal trait as he went on declaring unexpected divisive and controversial decisions and moves. Within this context, three scenarios are expected on how his administration will deal with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: The first could be by maintaining a fait accompli statuesque in favor of the Zionist state, a policy long followed by previous American presidents that ranged at times between lenient and tough positions by the White House. However, such a scenario is unlikely.

The second scenario would involve total support to the ultimate vision of the Zionist state. The White House statement which said that new Jewish “settlement construction” in the West Bank and Jerusalem “may not be helpful”, came in a gentle tone far from any censure. The statement said the Trump administration “doesn’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace” but “the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal.” This is a new development in the policy that tends to go beyond that adopted by the administration of the former Republican American President George Bush, the son, which opposed building new “settlements”/ colonies and agreed to construction in existing ones only. In this regard, Israeli professor of international law Eugene Kontrovich wrote saying “there is talk of a major policy change which means the United States agrees to building in existing “settlements” including small ones”. At the time the media sees in the White House statement as restraining construction, he said, “there is a talk going on about a large historic green light”. Saluting Trump’s position, Israeli columnist Drur Idar said “Trump’s name should be written down in gold in the history of our people as someone who helped the return of Zion, yet the future of settlement is not connected to the United States or the world, but connected to us only, to our determination, holding on to the land and strengthening awareness of our simple and natural right in our country”. That scenario is not likely either.

The third scenario and the most likely to happen is the one where the new US administration  might offer the Zionist state further support but not by meeting all its demands, and yet, by pressuring for progress towards some kind of a peaceful solution. This scenario is enhanced with Trump oscillating positions vis-a-vis the proposed two-state solution, unlike his predecessors who often called for it -albeit for publicity purposes-, as the best way to resolve the conflict. It appears, so far, that Trump is willing to find a different political settlement based on the notion of an ‘expanded Palestinian self-rule’ (maybe much expanded)! Such a notion means that he supports resolving the conflict through an Israeli concept, but maybe with some embellishing elements that would carry the words of ‘state’, or even an ‘empire’ according to the satirical expression quoted by the late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon!!!

Within the context of this third scenario, there appear varied Israeli assumptions. Israeli editor Sever Blotzker wrote saying “that with President Trump, Israel must be prepared for a sharp shift in the White House policy on Jewish “settlements”. One assumption that is clear to all, he said, is that Trump is giving the government of Israel the green light to build as it wishes in the settlements, provided construction does not exceed their borders drawn up by Israel herself, even if they moved further. He said Trump has not yet clarified his position on the issue, waiting for (after) his meeting with Netanyahu. If this is not a shift, he noted, what a shift could be”. However, a more cautious analysis came under the title of “A Warning to Israel”  by  correspondent Barak Ravid who said that “the issue was drafted with silk gloves, with diplomacy and decency but that the last line, he added was clear; for Trump, the government of Israel is under a warning! He said “the White House announcement showed that in the event of any change, as compared with Obama policy, it may not be a dramatic one at this stage …. Trump is practically returning to George Bush the son’s policy on settlements, i.e. the main goal to him is to reach a Palestinian-Israeli peace deal based on a two-state solution”. According to the announcement, (Ravid) added, “construction in the settlements does not serve that goal”.

It appears that in the wake of the recent Trump/Netanyahu meeting in Washington, both men say ‘yes’ to an ‘expanded self-rule’ for the Palestinians, rejecting the position of the Israeli extreme right which calls for the annexation of the Palestinian West Bank including Jerusalem, effectively and totally.