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Trump's Win Could Be Palestine's Loss

Walter Russell Mead

The election of Donald Trump, being hailed in some corners of Israel’s right, may spell trouble for the Palestinians and advocates of a two-state solution. The New York Times reports:

Emboldened by the Republican sweep of last week’s American elections, right-wing members of the Israeli government have called anew for the abandonment of a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians.

“The combination of changes in the United States, in Europe and in the region provide Israel with a unique opportunity to reset and rethink everything,” Naftali Bennett, Israel’s education minister and the leader of the pro-settlement Jewish Home party, told a gathering of the Foreign Press Association in Jerusalem on Monday.

Mr. Bennett, who advocates annexing 60 percent of the occupied West Bank to Israel, exulted on the morning after Donald J. Trump’s victory: “The era of a Palestinian state is over.”

Bennett’s words may be premature, and, for now, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is taking a wait-and-see approach to Trump’s victory. Still, the Palestinians are likely to emerge as big losers under a Trump Administration. They have always had a weaker position than the Israelis, depending on the confluence of three forces in world politics to prop them up: financial and political support from the U.S., the EU, and the Arab states. Now, all three forces are stacked against their cause.

A Trump win means much less support from the U.S. government for the idea that a two-state solution is key to resolving the Israel-Palestine. Both chairmen of Trump’s Israel committee have said that a two-state solution is “not a priority” for a Trump Administration, and that West Bank settlements are not an obstacle to peace. Nor do Trump’s advisers seem to buy the idea that America’s need for Middle East oil requires the U.S. to at least try to appear favorable to the Palestinian cause in some way.

As far as Europe goes, the EU is becoming more emotionally committed to the Palestinian issue than before, but its ability to influence events on its periphery continues to decline. Growing Russian influence and the widening gap between Turkey and the EU weaken the EU’s influence in the eastern Mediterranean, and Europe’s own internal problems and economic weakness further reduce its ability to persuade actors in the region to follow its lead. On top of that, it seems likely that U.S.-EU relations will worsen under Trump. That may make the Europeans more willing to chart a course independent from the U.S. with regard to the Palestinian issue, but the division of the west diminishes Europe’s clout and tends to magnify the growing acrimony inside the Union.

As for the Sunni Arab states, they face a mix of internal and external problems that have pushed support for the Palestinian cause—always a luxury good in Arab politics—to a much lower position on the list of priorities. Turkey and Iran may try to step forward in various ways to take up the slack and to gain some propaganda points from supporting the Palestinian cause, but that support is likely to be both costly and divisive, deepening the split between Palestinians aligned with the “old” allies in the West and the Arab world and the “radicals” willing to work with new partners.

Trump has said that negotiating an Israeli-Palestinian peace would represent the “ultimate deal,” but the terms of that deal seem to be shifting heavily in favor of the Israelis.

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