Trump is something the United States has not seen for some time: an openly bigoted right-wing demagogue. What does his presidency portend for the longest-lasting front-line of the North-South struggle in Palestine? One cannot say for sure, given Trump’s mercurial policy announcements, rapid advances and retreats, verbal pirouettes and endless bellowing.
But several announcements point to slight shifts in policy. What is crucial is that Trump advisers are announcing that they no longer consider it important to even symbolically nod at the international legal system. In a September meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump agreed to “finally accept the longstanding congressional mandate to recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the state of Israel.” Most countries maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv instead of Jerusalem in recognition of East Jerusalem’s occupied status under international law.
Regarding the lingering specter of the two-state settlement, Jason Greenblatt, the co-chairman of his campaign’s Israel Advisory Committee, said, “It is certainly not Mr. Trump’s view that settlement activities should be condemned and that it is an obstacle for peace, because it is not an obstacle for peace.”
The United Nations and a host of international judicial bodies have long considered the settlements illegal. The lingering need for legitimacy within the international system and among the democratic voting bloc has even led President Barack Obama, to call settlement construction “unhelpful,” and to instruct his damage-control agents to announce that such building projects are "deeply troubling."
Other signs point to an alignment with a segment of the Israeli ruling elite which care not a whit for appearances within the international system. Bayit Yehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett declared, "The era of a Palestinian state is over. Trump’s victory is an opportunity for Israel to immediately retract the notion of a Palestinian state in the center of the country, which would hurt our security and just cause. This is the position of the president-elect, as written in his platform, and it should be our policy, plain and simple."
But the simple fact is that the “space” of a so-called “Palestinian state” has constantly been shrinking amid the political choreography which has been a constant feature of “peace process” politics over the decades. Announcements of Israeli settlement construction have constantly met with finger-wagging from the U.S. The establishment then signs on to defense deals that pushes ever-more weapons into the Palestinian arena, and ever-more-dollars into the coffers of U.S. defense firms.
In fact, neither the U.S. elite nor the liberal wing of the zionist elite, have ever had the capacity or desire to challenge the settlement project. For decades, that project has ensured the Israeli government a testing ground for its population control, security, and small-arms technologies. It has also kept the Israeli population in a perpetual state of forced insecurity, pushing them to focus on the Palestinian enemy, without and within rather than other lines of division, such as rifts and conflicts within the dominant Jewish caste.
Finally, the occupation and the settlement project has meant constant land-mass added to the Israeli colonial acquisition. Land is expensive, and thus settlement is a direct form of colonial theft, which can then be redistributed to poorer settlers. Similarly, take-over of aquifers and natural resources has been a constant boon to the Jewish sector of the Israeli economy. There is every reason to maintain the occupation settlement project and little reason to bring it to an end.
The difference between what is coming from the spokespeople of the incoming Trump administration and Obama is that in some ways what was previously unspoken policy now threatens to become spoken policy. But this is the difference in so many fields. For example, Obama’s deportation of millions versus Trump’s vicious anti-immigrant and pro-deportation rhetoric. This is not to say they are the same. It is to say that in recognizing their differences, it is also crucial to keep in mind the parameters within which both parties have always operated, particularly in that place of perennial party unity, Palestine.
Trump or Clinton, zionist lobby or not, no administration, now or in the future, was ever of its own will going to so much as force a full withdrawal to the 1967 armistice lines. Even such a change would require something close to a revolution. The decolonization of Palestine is not and has been on anyone’s agenda — except, of course, the people who are suffering in the region.
What is clearer than ever is that the U.S. contribution to liberating Palestine — which should simply be to stop the U.S. client state of Israel from colonizing and destroying Palestine — cannot and will not go through the two-party system, nor through lobbying days in Washington, nor through hobnobbing with this or that congressperson or other elected official.
Trump has also insisted that the Iran “nuclear deal” may be off the table. Of course, the nuclear deal was never a peace deal. It was a victory for economic strangulation, and its intent is to either produce an internal fifth column to destroy the Iranian Revolution from within or to impose enough neoliberalism to enable a military attack against a weakened Iran.
That said, Trump’s announcement that the deal suggests a move to more open and immediate confrontation. Whether this will come to pass is anyone’s guess, since much of the current blustering is surely empty, only meant to appeal to a victorious base.
But if indeed talk becomes policy, in one after another arena of concern, from Palestine and Iran, to racism and anti-racism at home, Trump is choosing the path of open confrontation and right-wing demagoguery. The only force capable of slowing or stopping his agenda is us.
Max Ajl is an editor at Jacobin and Jadaliyya.