Trump’s victory was a real shock, not only for decision-makers in every single capital on this planet, but also for experts and observers who saw nothing but a landslide victory for the Democrats and Hilary Clinton. Shortly after his victory, statements splashed media and political corridors, and Donald Trump himself announced his readiness to meet with Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu. Many Israeli officials didn’t shy out from saying that the Trump era will be the golden age for the Israeli- American relations and the probability of establishing a Palestinian state became nil.
In Israel, many politicians said they expected Trump to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett said that with Trump’s presidency, there is a chance for Israel to “retract the notion of a Palestinian state.” In fact, Trump’s victory, the negative repercussions of the so-called Arab Spring, and the ongoing chaos in the Middle East have all served to increase the clouds of doubt hanging over Palestine, and many Palestinian observers have a bleak opinion on the prospects of the peace process and the Palestinian cause in general.
Those observers have reasons for pessimism. During the election campaign, Trump not only committed to moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, but also praised the Republican platform that forgets about past support for a two-state solution and calls Jerusalem Israel’s “indivisible” capital. Trump and his aides have said that the illegal Israeli settlements are not an obstacle to peace.
The main pillars of the President-elect’s campaign are staunch advocates and flagrant supporters of Israel and Netanyahu’s policies, such as John Bolton and Rudy Giuliani, candidates for Secretary of State, not to mention Newt Gingrich and Michael Pence. Needless to say, Trump has been elected as a representative of a Party that enjoys the majority in the Congress and the Senate. In other words, the administration’s policies will receive support from both legislative institutions.
In spite of those indicators that led to such pessimism for Palestinians, I think it is too early to judge the consequences of the election of Trump and whether this election will lead to a disaster on the Palestinian cause or not: for a number of reasons.
First, the official Israeli statements carry a lot of exaggeration, especially with regards to the possibilities of establishing a Palestinian state. Those statements are nothing but a psychological attempt to put further pressure on the President-elect to fulfill his pre-election promises. This psychological campaign also targets the Palestinian president with the aim of weakening his moderate position, which has embarrassed Israel internationally. That being said, I would not have expected different Israeli statements if Hilary Clinton had been elected.
Second, regarding the chances of establishing a Palestinian state, it does not depend solely and exclusively on the name of the US president, but rather it is based on more in-depth issues, including the Palestinian dimension itself, and internal conditions such as unity and steadfastness in face of the systematic Israeli practices directed to end the Palestinian presence on their own land. It also depends on the Palestinians’ resilience and ability to cope with international changes and regional polarization. It also hinges on the international will and desire to end this conflict, and I don’t see that this moment has come yet. It is contingent as well on Israel’s readiness to compromise and to accept an offer of peace now with all the unforeseeable future threats in such a turbulent region.
Third, it is true that the United States has the most influential role in the peace process, yet old habits die hard. In effect, US foreign policy neither depends on the name of the president nor is subject to drastic changes. US presidents usually have a small margin that allows them to shift slightly away from the broad, well-known and agreed upon lines of foreign policy that are drawn in advance. Perhaps the proximity differs (of course by a small distance) when the president is a Republican or a Democrat.
Although Trump enjoys a Republican majority in Congress and the Senate, two facts should not be overlooked: first is that Trump himself has neither been part of the Republican elite nor its political structure. Until recently, his statements and positions aroused dissatisfaction and dismay in many traditional Republicans. Second is the importance of the role of the deep state which has been setting up the aforementioned broad lines of US policy.
At this juncture, one can say that the most critical challenge would be Trump’s ability to manoeuvre and distance himself from the traditional broad lines of US foreign policy. If he succeeds, this would constitute an unprecedented case in the history of US decision-making.
Any change in the broad lines of traditional US foreign policy will affect not only on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict but also the entire Middle East. If this happens, it will usher in a period of uncertainty in international affairs. In other words, it is a change that would reach other regions and would eventually have an impact on the whole US international relations network. By then, US relations with traditional allies and friends would be affected and the entire web of international relations may witness a revolution.
Perhaps the main question should be: Can Trump match words with deeds? In other words, can Donald Trump really move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem? Many US presidents said they would do so during their campaigns, but when they took office they realized that such a decision contradicts the broad lines of traditional US foreign policy. If Trump does so, then this would a fundamental turning point and a significant sign for unprecedented deviation from traditional US foreign policy.
Preliminary indications show that realpolitik will come to the fore and Trump will not stray far from the known axioms of American foreign policy. His recent statement that he will work to reach a peace agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis confirms that he has already begun reading the White House brochure for new presidents.
In a word, pragmatism asserts its rights. While it may be too early to make judgments, it is crucial to admit that a Palestinian state is part and parcel of the internationally recognized two-state solution: the state of Israel and the state of Palestine. Any US president who is eager to see a more stable Middle East must work on making this solution achievable. Disregarding the realistic demands of either party would lead to further degradation of this solution and could even put the last nail in the coffin of the already-waning Middle East Peace Process.