President Trump’s Ambiguity Towards Israel

The Israel-Palestine conflict has been a consistently central topic in U.S. political campaigns. While Donald Trump may have won the U.S. presidential election pushing a hard pro-Israel agenda, it is unclear what he plans to do in the future and whether he appreciates the complexity and nuances of the issues. With the Republican push to work with Israel, supporting the efforts of organisations such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), President Trump still seems uncertain where he stands on the two-state versus one state solution. During his joint press conference on 15 February with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, Trump explained he was satisfied with both a one state policy and a two state policy, an independent State of Palestine alongside the State of Israel. President Trump’s statement ‘I’m happy with what both parties like’ shows the softening of his former stance in terms of the conflict and situation occurring within the Middle East.

The Israel-Palestine conflict is a complex issue with both sides laying claim to the land. According to the Balfour Doctrine in 1917, the land that Israel now occupies (not officially becoming a state until 1948) was given to the Jews escaping Eastern Europe as a safe place and a location of refuge. While the Jews saw this as their only opportunity for survival, with the alternative being staying in Europe and being exterminated, the Palestinians saw this as their land being unfairly given away in a treaty to which they did not agree. Both sides have justifications for their actions and both sides want to protect their families, communities, and heritage. To put the blame on any one side, specifically targeting the beliefs and practices of these people, is not only wrong but is incredibly detrimental to the progress that has been made. Fighting between Israel and Palestine is practically ingrained in their cultures, with Israel requiring its citizens to join the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) in efforts to promote national security and nationalistic attitudes. President Trump inaccurately accused the Palestinians of needing to ‘get rid of the hate they have learned from a young age.’ This accusation shows exactly the stigma and response that causes divides and problems in terms of peace agreements.

Image courtesy of Chesdovi, © 2009, some rights reserved.

Growing up in an atmosphere of fear, it only seems logical the youth of both Palestine and Israel would despise each other. Through constant bomb shelter drills, having to join the IDF, or even being recruited to commit terrorist attacks in the name of your country, the youth are being used as physical and psychological weapons in this battle. To put the blame on the Palestinian youth only shows the outer coating of naivety that President Trump possesses. This was completely evident in President Trump’s press conference with Netanyahu. The only definite, concrete statements made during this conference by the President were as follows: Trump would like to see the embassy moved to Jerusalem, and Israel has the U.S. as an unwavering ally. Whether President Trump believes in a one state or two state policy is even more unclear than prior to his conference. Though he insinuates a one state push, using jargon like ‘a Palestinian state would serve as a burden’ or how he merely told Netanyahu to ‘hold off on settlements’ until the Palestinians were better informed of the proposed deal being drafted.

Politicians and the public were confused and taken aback by President Trump’s press conference in the U.S. on 15 February. It seemed he side stepped any real action or stance and just pandered to the public refusing to clearly pick a side. According to a Gallup Poll, American sympathies are 65 per cent for Israelis and only 15 per cent for Palestinians. This ‘pro-Israel’ trend is not astonishing or unforeseen considering past foreign policy and presidential agreements with Israel. Looking back to the Clinton era, the most notable strides were taken in terms of creating peace between Israel and its neighbours. President Clinton hosted the signing of the Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles in September 1993, and the signing of the Israeli-Jordan Washington Principles in July 1994, creating revolutionary peace agreements and ultimately a new path for foreign policy. While administrations like that of Clinton or Obama had definite strategies and relationships with Israel, working to promote peace and ease tensions in the Middle East, President Trump seems to have no real grasp of understanding or strategy in terms of the magnitude of this issue.

Following Trump’s press conference on 16 February, Nikki Haley, current ambassador to the United Nations (UN), tried to reverse the damage President Trump had done. She took a very different approach than President Trump, attacking the UN for being biased towards Israel. She criticised the UN for being obsessed with Israel to the exclusion of focusing on terrorist organisations such as Hezbollah and ISIS. While Haley should be applauded for taking a stance and covering for President Trump’s inability to convey his thoughts or intentions, she misunderstood that focusing on Israel is also focusing on terrorist threats, and the concern for Israel and the concern over terrorism are not completely separate issues. The reason Israel is at the forefront of discussion is directly related to terrorism. The current Palestinian government is being controlled by Hamas, recognised as a terrorist organisation by Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Australia. Not only do the Palestinians have to suffer internal instability and government oppression, they are also fighting for citizenship with the Israeli government.

As the global media attacked President Trump for his unclear policy stance, Trump proceeded to remind the public that he has three Jewish grandchildren and a Jewish son-in-law, therefore giving him authority and knowledge on Israeli affairs. However, this attempted diversion of criticism backfired intensely. Starting in mid-January, 48 Jewish Community Centres in 26 states were threatened with bomb attacks and acts of violence. Many acts of anti-Semitism were demonstrated throughout the country in response to President Trump’s detrimentally pro-Israel rhetoric. However, despite President Trump’s insisted respect and appreciation for the Jews, he failed to denounce hate groups or address these attacks until late February. His failure to act until there was a public outcry leads to the impression that he tolerates such hate crimes and may have ambiguous views on Israeli/Jewish issues.

As Sean Spicer, Trump’s White House Press Secretary, stated ‘The President made it clear on the day of his election and frankly through his campaign that he seeks to unite the country.’ By overlooking opportunities to settle international peace conflicts such as that of Israel and Palestine, President Trump is letting domestic cases of abuse and terror occur in the U.S., as seen through the increased anti-Semitic attacks. Without proper leadership through example, commitment, and proper understanding, no strides will be taken towards peace in the Middle East. With sounder governance and a clear message, hostile attitudes towards Israel and towards Jews as a whole would likely be lessened. President Trump cannot hide behind his ambiguous message forever, and must have clear policies and implement them, creating and promoting a U.S. that works towards peace rather than conflict and hate.

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