Could Donald Trump prove to be Israel’s Trojan horse?

Flickr.com: Gage Skidmore, CC-BY-SA-2.0

It’s news to few that the Israeli right has been tripping over itself with adulation since Donald Trump’s shock election victory.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has set the overall messaging for the coalition, praising a ‘new era’ of relations with the new president and penciling in his first face-to-face with the new president in under a month.

The now-Likudnik Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has gone further, using a YouTube video to charge that former President Obama “surrendered to radical Islam” during his term in office.

Unfettered by the watchful eye of the former administration for only a few days, he has ensured that the Jerusalem Municipality green-light the construction of 566 housing units over the Green Line.

More significantly, plans to legally annex Ma’ale Adumim, undoubtedly the first step towards Naftali Bennet’s fantasy of asserting Israeli sovereignty over all of area C in the West Bank, are on hold for only a month now and rapidly gaining traction.

The bilateral in Washington the plans are on hold until is less than a month away and the proposal already enjoys support from virtually all the right-wing parties in addition to carrying the PM’s imprimatur.

And then there’s perhaps the biggest issue of them all: the campaign promise to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which everybody from Netanyahu to an opportunistic property developer are hell-bent on ensuring the President holds good on.

But what if…

But imagine, for a moment, that the following were to pan out..

Emboldened by Trump’s pre-election foreign policy rhetoric, Israel takes a series of increasingly daring unilateral steps in the West Bank that pits itself even more squarely against the consensus of the international community than it already stands.

Firstly, as soon as next month, the Knesset formally annexes the Jerusalem commuter settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim and the E1 zone – the first time the government has formally annexed territory since 1981 when it passed the internationally unrecognized Golan Heights Law.

This move is soon followed, as Bennett and the right crave, by annexation of the nearby settlements of the Gush Etzion bloc, the Jordan Valley, Ofra, and – significantly – the West Bank’s biggest settlement, the city of Ariel.

Spurred on by the Trump administration’s tacit silence in the face of Israel’s biggest move vis-a-vis the Palestinians in decades, the Bill to annex all of area C into Israel proper becomes law, effectively extending the borders of the state on the East to the Jordanian border.

At this point, what happens on the international diplomatic front is anybody’s guess, but imagine again the following possible reaction.

The tinderbox explodes

The Palestinian street and leadership (plus anyone with access to a map of the region) is forced to accept that the two state solution or any hope of Palestinian statehood is now well and truly dead in the water.

The new facts on the ground – namely that 61% of the West Bank has been formally subsumed into Israel at the swipe of a pen – have driven a legal nail in the coffin of the Oslo Accords as well as the entire two state process.

The parameters of any future Palestinian state are now necessarily limited to the disjointed and non-contiguous islands of areas A (Palestinian cities), the villages of area B (which the IDF co-administrates), plus the Gaza Strip under Hamas rule.

Even Meretz and Bt’selem are forced to finally admit: it’s simply not going to happen.

After the already ongoing talks are concluded, the US embassy is finally moved to Jerusalem, and if they haven’t already done so by now, the Palestinians hold good on their threat to “unleash all weapons” on the US administration at the UN.

Domestically, Palestinian social media becomes more virulently awash than ever before with incitement demanding a popular jihad to counter not just the fictitious “threats to Al Aqsa” that kicked off the nine month long knife intifada, but the “death-knell to all of Palestine” that the annexation has resulted in in their eyes.

Something far uglier than the knife attacks is unleashed by a population who now feel as if they have nothing left to lose.

And unlike the knife intifada, reaction to these seismically destabilizing events spreads like wildfire to arouse the sympathy of the entire Arab World.

In the worst possible case scenario, the Arabs launch their first unified war against Israel since 1967 – except that this time it resembles a doomsday battle of Biblical Gog and Magog proportions, with armies and paramilitary state proxies spanning everybody from Hamas to ISIS joining forces to open fronts against Israel.

The borders of Gaza, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, and Jordan – not to mention the air – come under an unprecedented assault.

Assuming that Israel survives, a series of right-wing proposals that have long been considered marginal or the exclusive preserve of the far right are now considered acceptable mainstream topics for debate by the Israeli public.

Their extremity is made infinitely more palatable by both the renewed wave of violence that Israel presumably faces after its unilateral annexation of most of the West Bank and the “new relationship” with the improbably supportive Trump administration.

Now that its role is ultimately going to be limited to administering a few city-states in the West Bank, should Israel forcibly dismantle the PA altogether, as many on the right have long hoped?

Now that the State and its institutions extend almost there, does Israel finally have the demographic balance and wherewithal to annex Ramallah, Jenin, and the remainder of the West Bank as well?

Other, more Kahanist, ideas could emerge in addition.

A change of mind

And then, one day, President Donald Trump (or his property tycoon son-in-law that he’s confident will somehow broker the world’s most intractable religious/political conflict) simply changes his mind about the whole Israel thing.

Of course, Trump making a radical turnabout is hardly without precedent.

ThinkProgress reckons that on his first day in office alone he broke 34 campaign promises ranging from renegotiating the NAFTA deal to not instituting a bizarre policy of removing two regulations for every one institution. And that list only adds to his broken pre-election promises which included a worrying threat to “jail” Hilary Clinton.

As domestic opposition to Israel’s recent actions swells to bursting point in the US, Trump pivots for populism and joins the masses.

‘Obama was right after all,’ he decides.

The US aligns itself, for the first time, with the now worldwide chorus of nations contemplating unprecedented measures against Israel, and the ‘new era’ in the ‘special relationship’ that had seemed so promising topples like a sandcastle.

Given the unprecedented international isolation Israel is sure to incur if it goes ahead with the unilateral measures it is contemplating, the sudden withdrawal of its traditional military and diplomatic bulwark could make the days of Obama’s abstention at Resolution 2334 seem halcyon by comparison.

A dangerous strategy

The above is all, of course, nothing but wild hypothesis.

But to take President Donald Trump’s shock election as a salient example, crazier things have happened in the world.

Right now, the most right-wing government in Israel’s history is busily contemplating taking legal measures that would be unprecedented in its history and institute irreversible changes to its policies with the Palestinians.

In doing so, many among its ranks are relying on the support – or, more accurately, the pre-election overtures – of a President that by many observers’ reckoning seems deeply unstable in his worldview.

The Israeli right are undoubtedly currently relishing the prospect that Trump’s ascent to power will provide a much awaited window of opportunity to finally put the two state issue to bed in Israel’s favor.

But predicating that goal on Donald Trump’s support, which could mount to nothing but hot air, seems like a very dangerous game to play.

A lot will presumably change in the region’s politics over the coming six months.

Hopefully President Trump’s current encouragement of the right to action its wildest dreams won’t emerge as a Trojan horse strategy that will one day take Israel – and the entire world – by surprise.

 

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