Fri | Apr 20, 2018

Trump win could give Israel freer hand with Palestinians

Published:Thursday | November 24, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Donald Trump


Donald Trump's presidential victory has dimmed hopes for reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and analysts say Israel may

be given carte blanche from his administration.

American presidents have long struck a delicate balance in the conflict, stressing the close US friendship and lavishing the Jewish state with aid. But recent presidents also have tried to negotiate, and they have called out Israel for actions seen as undermining peace efforts, such as expanding settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Trump's role cannot be easily predicted.

A foreign policy novice, the billionaire businessman takes pride in his deal-making skills and said he would love the challenge of negotiating a Mideast agreement. He told The New York Times on Monday that it "would be such a great achievement". He said his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, an observant Jew and a close adviser, may help make that happen.

Last December, Trump told The Associated Press that he wanted to be "very neutral" and try to get both sides together. But his tone became decidedly more pro-Israel as the campaign progressed. He has spoken disparagingly of Palestinians, saying they have been "taken over" by or are condoning militant groups. Some of his top aides challenge the legitimacy of Palestinian demands for a state and have claimed that the Palestinians are a made-up people.

That has cast doubt on whether he would ever question Israeli actions or even try to serve as a neutral broker.

"Trump's administration may take a totally hands-off approach," said Yousef Munayyer, a political analyst and executive director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. "Israel would have free rein to dominate the Palestinians forever and ever if there is no external involvement."

David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said the volatility of the Middle East and of American political parties after a grueling campaign have made "the conclusion of a two-state solution very unlikely."

Some senior Israeli officials share that view.

Cabinet Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, said after Trump's November 8 election that "the era of a Palestinian state are over." Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman suggested Israel could cut a deal with Trump that allowing expanded construction in major settlements while freezing building in isolated parts of the West Bank. That would be a sharp break from Obama administration policy.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been more cautious, congratulating Trump but giving no indication on whether he will now change his policies.

Relations have been tense between President Barack Obama and Netanyahu. Trump has accused Obama of putting undue pressure on Israel.

But Obama has hardly cast off Israel. In September, the US signed its largest-ever security agreement, giving the Israeli military US$38 billion over 10 years. While Obama pressured Israel into a partial settlement freeze in 2009 and 2010, settlements continue to expand.