What if Donald Trump is Israel’s Trojan Horse?
Israel’s right-wing government has been literally falling over itself with glee since Donald Trump’s shocking rise to power last year.
Prime Minister Netanyahu has set the overall direction, praising the arrival of what he calls a ‘new era’ in relations with the president and penciling a first face-to-face with him for February.
Jerusalem’s hawkish mayor, Nir Barkat, has gone further in his rhetoric, using a YouTube video to charge that Obama “surrendered to radical Islam” during his term in office.
Unfettered by the watchful eye of the former administration for only a matter of days, the Jerusalem Municipality he heads green-lighted the construction of 566 housing units over the Green Line.
This was followed, two days later, by an announcement to add over 2,500 units to pre-existing settlements in the West Bank, among the largest construction announcements in the turbulent area since 2013. In a reaction unprecedented in recent relations between the allies, the new administration kept mum on the move.
But these developments are only the tip of the iceberg of what could come.
Plans to legally annex Ma’ale Adumim, undoubtedly the first step towards Naftali Bennet’s fantasy of asserting Israeli sovereignty over all of area C in the West Bank, are on hold only until the bilateral in Washington next month and are rapidly gaining traction. The proposal enjoys support from virtually all the right-wing parties in addition to carrying the bullish PM’s imprimatur.
And then there’s perhaps the biggest issue of them all.
Plans to activate the campaign promise to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – which everybody from Netanyahu to an opportunistic property developer are hell-bent on ensuring the President holds good on – are quietly gaining steam.
But what if…
Imagine that the following were to occur.
Israel continues to take Trump’s ascent to power as carte blanche to act with a sense of impunity in the West Bank. It takes a series of increasingly daring unilateral steps that pits it even more squarely against the consensus of the international community than where it already finds itself.
As soon as next month, the Knesset annexes the Jerusalem commuter settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim and the E1 zone. This would be the first time the government has formally annexed territory since 1981 when it passed the internationally unrecognized Golan Heights Law.
This move is soon followed, as Bennett and the right crave, by annexation of the nearby settlements of the Gush Etzion bloc, the Jordan Valley, Ofra, and – significantly – the West Bank’s biggest settlement, the city of Ariel – a major population center far removed from the territory’s periphery.
As the tactic approval of the Americans continues to embolden the government, the Bill to annex all of area C becomes law, extending the eastern borders of the state to the Jordanian border.
At this point, what happens on the diplomatic front is anybody’s guess, but imagine, again, the following.
The tinderbox explodes
The Palestinians on the street and the leadership (plus anyone with access to a map of the region) is forced to accept that the two state solution or any hope of Palestinian statehood is dead in the water.
The new facts on the ground – 61% of the West Bank has been formally subsumed into Israel at the swipe of a pen – have driven a legal nail in the coffin of the Oslo Accords and the entire two state process.
The parameters of any future Palestinian state are now necessarily limited to the disjointed and non-contiguous islands of areas A (the Palestinian cities), the rural villages of area B co-administered by Israel, plus the coastal Gaza Strip, which remains under totalitarian Hamas rule.
Even Meretz and Bt’selem are forced to admit: it’s simply not going to happen.
The US embassy moves to Jerusalem – and if they haven’t already done so by now – the Palestinians hold firm on their threat to “unleash all weapons” on the US administration at the UN.
Palestinian social media is flooded with incitement demanding a popular jihad to counter not just the fictitious “threats to Al Aqsa” that sparked the nine month long knife intifada, but the “death-knell to all of Palestine” that the annexation has resulted in. A real third intifada is unleashed by a population numbering over two million who now feel that they have nothing left to lose.
Reaction to the seismically destabilizing events spreads like wildfire and arouses the sympathy of not just Israel’s neighbors but the entire Arab World.
In the worst-possible-case scenario, Arab nations launch their first unified war against Israel since 1967. This time, however, it resembles a doomsday battle of Biblical Gog and Magog proportions, with armies and paramilitary state proxies spanning from Hamas to ISIS joining forces to open fronts against Israel. Threats come from Gaza, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, and Jordan all at once.
Assuming Israel survives this onslaught, a series of right-wing proposals that have long been considered marginal or the exclusive preserve of the far right are now considered reasonable topics for discourse among a radicalized Israeli population. Ideas like whether Israel should forcibly dismantle the PA or extend its annexation to the remaining Arab enclaves in the West Bank are made more palatable by both the renewed wave of violence Israel presumably faces and the unwavering support it receives from the Trump administration.
A change of mind
And then, one day, President Donald Trump (or Jared Kushner, Trump’s property tycoon son-in-law that he’s certain will broker the world’s most intractable religion-political conflict) simply changes his mind about this whole Israel thing.
As domestic opposition to Israel’s annexation swells to a bursting point, Trump pivots for populism and joins the masses.
The US aligns itself with the now worldwide chorus of nations contemplating unprecedented measures against Israel.
The sudden withdrawal of its traditional military and diplomatic bulwark could make the days of Obama’s abstention at Resolution 2334 seem halcyon for Israel. The ‘new era’ in the ‘special relationship’ has toppled like a sandcastle.
A dangerous strategy
The above is nothing but a wild hypothesis.
But to take President Donald Trump’s shock election as a salient example, crazier things have happened in the world of late.
The most right-wing government in Israel’s history is busily contemplating measures that would be both unprecedented and institute irreversible changes to its relationship with the Palestinians and the world at large.
In doing so, many or most among its ranks are relying on the support of a newly elected President that by many observers’ reckoning seems deeply unstable in his foreign policy and worldview. In their eyes, Trump’s election has provided a much awaited window of opportunity to drop a thin veneer of commitment to a two state solution and finally put the issue to bed in Israel’s favor.
Predicating their most far-reaching ambitions on Donald Trump’s support, however, is a recklessly dangerous strategy.
A lot will presumably change in the region’s politics over the coming six months.
For Israel, one possibility should be cause for real concern.
Trump’s unconditional support will one day prove to be a Trojan horse.