Why a Loose-Lipped President in Israel-Palestine Is Dangerous By Drew H. Kinney
Probably the most troubling aspect of Donald Trump’s Administration is the President’s inability to walk a diplomatic tightrope. He yelled at and hung up on the Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull; menaced Mexico, with a possible invasion; and, yes, even threatened Canada with a trade war.
That type of behavior and bombast will literally get people killed in Israel and Palestine. I wish to highlight the fact that I did not write that Trump’s words and deeds “could” or “might” get people killed. If Trump is not careful with what he says and does, he will almost certainly cause eruptions in East Jerusalem and the Palestinian Occupied Territories.
That’s really what is at stake here. The President’s visit won’t result in any substantive change to the conflict. Therefore, what we should be looking for is the potential for political violence.
Readers should remember that the level of despair in the territories—and stagnation on the so-called “peace process”—has led to an uptick in violence in the past few years. The scariest feature of that violent cycle is that both Israelis and Palestinians have instigated it. This flare-up can be attributed to Israeli settlers who wish to continue the colonization of Palestinian territories, from Palestinians in reaction to on-going occupation, and from the (young) Israeli soldiers who are forced to manage this situation.
Remember Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif? That caused riots that eventually led to the Second Intifada—which was the violent one of the two intifadas. Scarier about the President’s up-coming visit is that some pundits have already labeled this new round of violence the Third Intifada (it’s not, but if it’s thinkable then tensions are high).
All of this means that Donald Trump will have to stay very, very neutral on his trip. It is one thing to say the capital of Israel should be moved to Jerusalem/Al-Quds. It is another to say it in Jerusalem or even in Tel Aviv.
There is no indication that Trump will be able to mollify either side. The radical right in Israel expects a lot from the new President. As mentioned above, he claimed the US embassy should move to Jerusalem/Al-Quds, i.e., that the US should recognize this as the Israeli capital (he later went back on this promise). He also broke with long-standing US policy on settlements beyond the 1967 Green Line when he said “no new settlements” should be built. That is de facto recognition of existing settlements from a sitting US president for the first time in history.
Moreover, he broke with tradition by appointing as ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who is an advocate of a one-state solution. Friedman in his first interview since his arrival in Israel as ambassador to Israel Hayom, a right-wing newspaper, in which he stated Trump will not demand a settlement freeze—allowing the Israeli state to continue building homes in the occupied West Bank.
This list angers Palestinians, amidst already increasing tension with Israel as they mobilize in recent weeks with nationwide hunger strikes. That social mobilization may continue or morph into something more violent, especially if the President fans these flames on his upcoming trip.
In short, and without trying to sound alarmist, what is scary is that perhaps the most controversial, confusing (in policy terms), and loose-lipped president the US has had since the advent of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will step foot on Israeli soil during a period of heightened tension.
The silver lining is that tension is already so high that Trump’s visit might not matter. The White House, however, has already caused outrage and “shock” ahead of the trip by saying the Western/Wailing Wall is in the West Bank. That type of ignorance and careless talk can cause physical and mortal damage next week.
For Trump, a successful stint in Israel/Palestine this week—written in all sincerity—would mean to avoid causing a major international incident.
Drew H. Kinney is a Ph.D. Candidate at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.