How will a Trump presidency affect Palestine?

How will a Trump presidency affect Palestine?

It was only a few years ago that the Arab world lived and breathed Palestine. We woke up to the Palestinian issue in our morning newspapers; passed much of the day in discussions about the conflict; and then went to bed after hearing updates on TV about Gaza and the West Bank.
Among the many grievances, we can blame the Arab Spring for allowing the Palestinian issue to be sidelined by other events. We didn’t stop caring; rather the plight of the Palestinians is something which plays on our minds after we have given thought to tragedies and atrocities in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen and too many other locations.
We can thus perhaps be forgiven for not giving too much thought to how Donald Trump’s presidency affects the Palestinian cause. Yet Israeli right-wingers have not been so forgetful or negligent. Only hours after Trump’s victory, the right-wing Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett was already declaring that the “era of the Palestinian state is over.” In some ways it is frustratingly difficult to disagree with him. In the early years of Barack Obama’s presidency, we watched in frustration as Benjamin Netanyahu, time and time again, called Obama’s bluff over efforts to restart the peace process and halt settlement expansion.
It was clear that segments of the US administration were working against President Obama’s efforts. It was also obvious that Obama’s staff did not possess anything like the required levels of political will necessary to produce a meaningful way forward. During his second presidential term, Obama put the Palestinian cause in the “too difficult” drawer and forgot about it. The administration recently awarded Israel an unprecedented $38 billion in military aid over the next 10 years. Trump’s success confirms that there won’t even be cosmetic efforts to keep the Palestinian issue in play for the next four years — perhaps the next eight years. I have spoken to European diplomats over recent days who said that their queries about peace efforts were laughed at by Israeli politicians, confident that the peace process is dead and buried.
The last votes had scarcely been counted in some American states when Israeli hardliners pushed forward with a new piece of legislation designed to legalize illegal Israeli settlements on privately-owned Palestinian land.
This bill would retroactively provide legal protection to thousands of illegally-built homes across the West Bank. The proposal already enjoys the support of many ministers in Netanyahu’s coalition.
According to Naftali Bennett, such legislation would be just a first step to unilaterally annexing more than 60 percent of the West Bank and consigning the idea of a territorially contiguous Palestinian state to the dustbin of history.
Such moves would undoubtedly galvanize and legitimize the extremist settler movement, for whom the obvious next step would be to establish thousands more illegal outposts across the remaining cantons of the West Bank — leaving Palestinian areas looking like so many air bubbles in a Swiss cheese.
One of the settlement leaders, Shai Ben Yosef, told the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper that the Israeli government always used the possibility of a US backlash as an excuse for slowing the rate of settlement building. Yosef gleefully stated that, after Trump’s election, “Our government needs to drop all those old excuses.”
Across the border in Syria, Bashar Assad has already talked about Trump as a possible “ally” after cordial telephone conversations between Trump and President Putin. This confidence in a sympathetic new US administration has given rise to a new all-out ground and air assault on rebel-held areas of Aleppo.
The Russians and the Syrian regime — like the Israelis — clearly believe that they no longer need to exercise caution in policies, which are in flagrant breach of international law.
Trump’s options for senior foreign policy and national security posts are made up either of people with no foreign policy experience or ideological hawks. This seems likely to produce a US policy in the region, which will intervene in an insensitive and ham-fisted manner. At a time when there are multiple conflict zones across the Middle East, this seems like a recipe for inflamed regionalized conflicts and a crop of failed states.
It is possible that Daesh will be crushed in Mosul and Raqqa, but without intelligent management of local political tensions, these regions will be fertile breeding grounds for whatever successor movement to Daesh that the future holds for us. The Palestinians suffer from an ailing leadership and crumbling institutions, facing an increasingly confident and assertive Israeli right-wing. With Palestinian frustrations already at boiling point, it is less a question of if, but rather when, the next Intifada will occur. A total collapse of the Palestinian National Authority would force security and humanitarian responsibilities back to Israel, producing an entirely new set of challenges.
Many far-sighted Israelis realize that the excesses of the settler movement and far-right may themselves bring about the death knell of the project of a Jewish state. As was the case with apartheid in South Africa, the Israeli state cannot both engulf the Palestinian areas and hope to be peaceful and democratic — the relative demographics of the Palestinian and Israeli populations also mean that in the long term, time is not on Israel’s side.
Therefore, this apparent triumph for expansionist Zionism — Trump’s electoral victory — may in retrospect turn out to be a pyrrhic moment when the ambition of a greater Jewish Israel undermines the more modest aspirations of previous generations of Zionist leaders. However, in 2016 we are far from the point when such dynamics will bloodily play themselves out. What is certain is that we are on the eve of one of the most aggressive phases to date of annexation of Palestinian lands — through legal channels, through legislative channels, and through the de facto illegal actions of tens of thousands of radical settlers. What is less certain is the nature of the inevitable reaction from long-suffering Palestinian citizens when aggressive attempts to humiliate and dispossess them proceed a step too far. Will this trigger yet another Palestinian Intifada?
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• Baria Alamduddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the United Kingdom. She is currently the Editor of Media Services Syndicate, a Foreign Editor at Al-Hayat and has interviewed numerous heads of state. She was a News Anchor for Lebanese Television and an analyst on Middle Eastern affairs on CNN, BBC, Sky News, ITN, CNBC, Al Arabiya, Al-Jazeera and other TV channels. Baria is a frequent guest speaker and moderator at international conferences; she has been the President of the IAC (International Arab Charity) since 2004 and is a member of the advisory board of the Tallberg Forum in Sweden. She is a member of the board of directors of the British Lebanese Association in London.

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