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The Dawn of a New Era…
Trump and Tomorrow

Viewpoints, February 2017
Dr. Leslie Susser

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In dismissing the mid-January Paris Peace Conference as the “death throes of yesterday’s world,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signaled that, as far as his government is concerned, the internationally-backed two-state solution with the Palestinians is passé and no longer on the table.

“Tomorrow’s world,” that is the world led by US President Donald Trump, “will be different,” he declared, intimating that Israel would presumably be granted unfettered building rights in the West Bank and, one way or another, allowed to maintain its 50-year occupation indefinitely.

But the prime minister could be in for an unpleasant surprise.

Just days after Trump’s inauguration on January 20, the Netanyahu government announced plans to build over 2,500 new housing units in the West Bank and 500 more in East Jerusalem, moves clearly designed to further undermine the two-state model. Unlike all its predecessors, which unfailingly denounced settlement building as an obstacle to peace, the Trump administration said nothing.

But when a week later Netanyahu trumpeted plans for another 3,000 units, the White House warned him against taking it for granted. The new administration, it asserted, remained committed to achieving a Middle East peace and settlement building was not necessarily the best way forward.

Still the Israeli right sees in the Trump presidency an historic window of opportunity.

Under his sympathetic wing, they hope to be able to annex most, if not all, of the West Bank.

For the center-left this would be nothing less than disastrous. It would, they argue, lead to a single undemocratic state with a disenfranchised Palestinian majority, shunned by most of the international community, with the possible exception of Trump’s America – and even that, they insist, is doubtful.

What could prove to be the most significant watershed moment since the creation of the Jewish state in 1948 is looming. The convergence of the Trump presidency and the 50th anniversary of the occupation has set the stage for a showdown between a rampant Israeli right convinced annexation is now, at last, politically possible and a battered center-left beginning to stir against what it sees as an impending catastrophe.

The Trump administration may be enabling Israel to compromise itself irrevocably with the rest of international community.

For the right, creating a biblically-based Greater Israel including most of the West Bank would be the ultimate fulfillment of the Zionist project; whereas for the center-left doing so would undermine Zionism’s chief goal: the Jewish people taking their fate into their own hands in a democratic, Jewish-majority state.

The degree to which the administration supports the right-wing’s plans will become clearer after a scheduled Trump-Netanyahu meeting in Washington in mid-February.

In any event, the right-wingers are pressing ahead with moves to extend Israeli sovereignty to the West Bank, starting with the annexation of the city of Ma’aleh Adumim, just seven kilometers east of Jerusalem.

As part of the wider annexation process, they are pushing through a highly controversial law legalizing the seizure of privately-owned Palestinian property for settlement purposes.  The next step could be Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s plan to annex Area C, which constitutes about 60 percent of the West Bank. Bennett, leader of national religious far-right settler party, Habayit Hayehudi, seems to be pulling Netanyahu ever further to the right, as the embattled prime minister seeks to hold onto his core constituency.

The balance between right and left could shift either way if the corruption allegations against him force Netanyahu from office.  A more right-wing leader could take over without a ballot, or there could be elections fought over the key issues of democracy and annexation, in other words over Israel’s future character and international standing, in which the center-left would have a better chance than most pundits currently believe.

“The big question is whether from all this new sound and fury a leader capable of unifying the center-left and winning an election will emerge”

 In allowing the Israeli right more freedom of action, the Trump administration may just be giving it enough rope to compromise itself irrevocably with the rest of international community, which remains committed to the two-state solution (a position strongly reinforced by the recent UN Security Council Resolution 2334) and will not tolerate annexationist moves or laws like the one legalizing the seizure of private Palestinian property.

The Trump administration may be enabling Israel to compromise itself irrevocably with the rest of international community

The Trump administration may be enabling Israel to compromise itself irrevocably with the rest of international community.

The center-left is gearing up for the coming confrontation. Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak has become one of Netanyahu’s sternest critics, accusing him of undermining Israel’s security by abandoning the two-state vision; scores of other ex-generals point to the horrors of a Belfast-like one-state future.

The big question is whether from all this new sound and fury a leader capable of unifying the center-left and winning an election will emerge.

Dr. Leslie Susser has covered Middle East peacemaking from the Begin-Sadat breakthrough in the late 1970s to the present day.