Gershon Baskin believes that Donald Trump is completely unpredictable, but what is clear is the responsibility of decisions that he will actually face when the weight of the world is on his shoulders.
On January 20, 2017, President-elect Donald Trump will take over the White House and US foreign policy. With regards to most US foreign policy issues, it is nearly impossible to predict what Trump will do.
He has contradicted himself so many times on just about everything it is impossible to find consistency on any position he has presented.
With regards to Israel and Palestine, this is especially true and even his senior staff and appointed advisers are equally unclear on what will be his real plans. So far they have even contradicted each other and they aren’t even in any official position yet. Trump did remove support for the twostate solution from the Republican Party platform. He has stated that the US will move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. His appointed candidate for US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is a devoted supporter of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and against the two-state solution. Trump said that he would not interfere and not try to create a new peace process, and then he said he would appoint his son-in-law – a known supporter of settlements to be the mediator between Israel and the Palestinians.
But I tend to relate to Trump’s statements until now on these issues and many others in the same way we have learned to understand Avigdor Lieberman’s statements before he was defense minister, such as giving Ismail Haniyeh an ultimatum of 48 hours to return the bodies of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul.
Donald Trump is completely unpredictable, but what is clear is the responsibility of decisions that he will actually face when the weight of the world is on his shoulders. That does not mean he will act responsibly, but it does mean that there will be a lot more people with gravitas trying to get him to listen to reason.
US presidents until Donald Trump have used their influence to place limits on Israeli settlement building. They have also used their power to keep the two-state solution relevant when many in Israel, Palestine and in the region can no longer see its feasibility. With Bennett and company and most Likud MKs breathing down Netanyahu’s neck to significantly increase settlement building after January 20 and even annexing parts of the West Bank, Netanyahu’s own genuine commitment to the two-state solution will come to the ultimate test.
I believe that Netanyahu, in his own mind, sees no other option for Israel.
He does not want Israel to become a bi-national state. He understands that he cannot annex all of the West Bank without granting citizenship to millions of Palestinians and he has no intention of doing that. I believe that Netanyahu is a believer in democracy and cannot perceive of Israel being anything else. But he has also demonstrated, and even said, that a Palestinian state will not be established on his watch. Can he believe that it is possible to annex large parts of the West Bank and still see a feasible, viable two-state solution? Netanyahu probably believes that if the US moves its embassy to Jerusalem, the sky will not fall. This is the lesson drawn from Israeli extension of its sovereignty over east Jerusalem in 1980 and over the Golan Heights in 1981. Perhaps he believes that Israel could also extend its sovereignty over Ma’aleh Adumim and other areas of the West Bank and will get away with it. It is quite possible that with Trump supporting these moves the international community will be powerless to take action against Israel.
It is not the international reaction to Israeli unilateral steps that mainly concern me, nor the direct response of the Palestinians. As an Israeli citizen, I believe that those steps would have fatal consequences for Israel. Until now, Israel has defined itself as the democratic nation-state of the Jewish people. I have always based my own positions on my acceptance of this definition. I have always been honest in stating that we must include Israel’s Palestinian citizens (20% of our citizens) in that definition and therefore we should define ourselves as the democratic nation-state of the Jewish people and all of its citizens.
That definition is based on the two main pillars of our existence – democracy and being the nation-state of the Jewish people. The relevance of that definition and its viable sustainability is predicated on the termination of Israel’s control over the Palestinian people. This has meant, until now, the creation of a Palestinian state next to Israel. It has meant that we must have a negotiated peace agreement with our Palestinian neighbors. The advancement of the two-state solution is the fulfillment of the Zionist dream, nothing less than that. The elimination of the two-state solution or the removal of the possibility of ending Israel’s control over the Palestinian people is a death blow to Zionism. And those who advance it are anti-Zionists.
Could it be possible that Netanyahu has a plan to gain US support to unilaterally annex the settlement blocks – roughly defined by Netanyahu as about 10-12% of the West Bank? There is no Palestinian or Arab leader alive who could possibility accept that, not King Abdullah II of Jordan nor Abdel Sisi of Egypt. Almost no Western nation leaders could accept that either.
This idea, or others that remove the termination of Israel’s control over the Palestinian people, is an act of national suicide. If these are the plans being generated in the minds of the Israeli and US administrations, than drastic actions need to be taken to save Israel from itself.
The potentially most effective response to possible Israeli unilateralism, such as advanced settlement building or an annexation of parts of the West Bank, would be for the nations of the world to recognize the State of Palestine, officially, based on the border of June 4, 1967 with Jerusalem serving as the capital of two states – Israel and Palestine. While this will not end Israel’s control over the Palestinians and not directly lead to peace, which can only be achieved through a negotiated agreement, it will extend the possible feasibility of the two-state solution.
If Israel insists on moving forward with settlement building and extending its sovereignty, it will not take long before almost the entire world will drop its support for the two-state solution and then Israel will officially become recognized as the inheritor of the apartheid crown and be treated in due respect (or lack thereof). That will officially be the end of the Zionist dream and the beginning of the struggle for a democratic state which is no longer the nation-state of the Jewish people.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.