And just like that, Binyamin Netanyahu made a friend in the White House. In a joint news conference held on February 15th with the Israeli Prime Minister, President Trump demonstrated a welcome return to warm relations between the two countries, which had reached a low during the Obama years.
Going beyond the average Republican president’s regard for Israel, however, Trump reaffirmed his interest in moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and signaled an end to the exclusive pursuit of a two state solution to the Israel-Palestine situation. “I’m happy with the one that both parties like,” the President said, hinting at the one state solution. This would certainly be an important departure from traditional U.S. policy on the matter; yet the one state solution merely affirms the reality operating within the Israeli and Palestinian governments. As in so many other policies, the Donald favors pragmatism over convention.
Palestine’s governing regime -- the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), long considered by the U.S. and Israel to be a terrorist outfit -- favors independence under the two state solution. Prime Minister Netanyahu has made his administration’s stance clear: negotiations with Palestine may only follow “without preconditions,” referring to the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s demand for a settlement freeze and release of certain prisoners prior to any meeting. Further, Netanyahu cannot concede Israel’s demands for permanent security control over any independent Palestinian state, nor a return to his country’s “indefensible” 1967 borders. President Abbas responded to the recent news conference by reciting his commitment to a two state solution and an end to “Israeli occupation.” He is as unlikely to budge as Israel is to cede territorial control to the PLO. The result is deadlock.
Trump is right to vocally support the interests of America’s enduring ally — Israel — without exacerbating relations with the Palestinian state. Tacking away from comments made during the 2016 campaign, Trump noted that Israel’s continued settlement building policy “is not good for peace,” yet wisely refrained from badgering Netanyahu in the vein of his predecessor. Despite Palestinian grumblings, this is a prudent measure.
Looming over it, however, is the threat of the Islamic State (ISIS), and Russia’s involvement in the Syrian Civil War. Tackling these tangled issues must take precedence over negotiations with Palestine. Both Trump and Netanyahu share a desire to destroy ISIS, and the President has expressed interest in working with Russia to that end. Israel, however, is unlikely to look favorably upon Russian-American cooperation — particularly if it means leaving Syria’s Bashar al-Assad regime intact. Israel views growing Iranian power as a greater threat to regional stability than the Islamic State; a belt of Shi’ite regimes loyal to Tehran would, in the long run, present a far greater threat to Israeli security. Trump may find himself unable to sufficiently please both Tel Aviv and Moscow. Should that happen, he would be wise to reaffirm the alliance with Israel.
In the case of greater confrontation, it would be best to deploy combined American-Israeli forces against ISIS prior to any diplomatic engagement with Iran. The more America is able to shape the post-ISIS landscape the greater its hand will be in any negotiations with Iran. Therefore, the United States should work directly with Israel to annihilate ISIS, and seize its ‘capital’ at Raqqa before Iran may be curbed. (It should be noted that this would conflict with Russian ambitions to expand influence in the Middle East, limiting the extent to which Moscow and Washington can realistically cooperate.) To this end, Trump should continue to court Netanyahu and forge practical policies divorced from dangerous ideologies like the two state solution. So long as the radical, violent PLO remains in power, an independent Palestine will be at odds with U.S. security. For America, a single, Israeli-run state is the only viable course.
Middle Eastern stability and Israeli security fall within the American national interest, insofar as it affects the security of the homeland, as well as our ability to project power into the region. Certainly no terrorist state may be allowed to seize control of the region. Should Iran or ISIS entrench power in Iraq, Syria, and the Levant, the United States will find it has fewer friends and less influence in the diplomatic battles it fights abroad. In the worst scenario, Americans will find themselves without a base from which to fight terrorism, and will face the prospect of rooting out attackers far closer to home. In that future, the U.S. will surely resemble Europe in the smoldering aftermath of endless terror attacks.
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