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Trump’s defeat ends the Israeli right’s long celebration

His presidency bolstered the mistaken impression that it's possible to preserve democracy for Jews while depriving the Palestinians of it
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, center, and then-tourism minister Yariv Levin during a meeting to discuss mapping extension of Israeli sovereignty to areas of the West Bank, held in the Ariel settlement, February 24, 2020. (David Azagury/US Embassy Jerusalem)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, center, and then-tourism minister Yariv Levin during a meeting to discuss mapping extension of Israeli sovereignty to areas of the West Bank, held in the Ariel settlement, February 24, 2020. (David Azagury/US Embassy Jerusalem)

Trump’s defeat marks the end of the Israeli right’s four-year celebration. At the global level, Trump has significantly intensified the erosion of the liberal world order. In a world where human rights are underrated, the on-going Israeli occupation provokes less condemnation and the Palestinian plight has been pushed off the agenda. At the regional level, Trump has abandoned any claim of being an honest broker. To the delight of the Israeli right, he hobbled the prospect of a two-state solution with his humiliating anti-Palestinian moves and by formulating a “deal of the century” that was so one-sided it blocked any chance of the Palestinians joining the negotiations.

Trump’s defeat will help stem the downfall of the liberal foundations of the world order devised at the end of WWII under the leadership of the United States. Although Trump did not initiate the developments that led to the undermining of the liberal order, he gleefully flourished on the ruins. Instead of trying to repair the damage, he chose to deepen it. Displaying a total lack of interest in cultivating alliances and in international institutions, Trump left the free world without leadership.

In a world governed by the notion that “might is right,” the Israeli right has found the control of a foreign people deprived of political rights more acceptable internationally. The very same logic heightened the temptation to initiate unilateral annexation moves.

This reality will not continue under Biden’s presidency. Global challenges will obviously not be addressed according to Mother Teresa’s playbook, but American foreign policy will no longer be characterized by Trump’s narcissistic, values-free style. The US will renew ties and aid to the Palestinians, annexation initiatives will be definitively off the table, and “the deal of the century” will slip into oblivion.

This expected change does not mean that an Israeli-Palestinian agreement is around the corner. The indispensable US mediator will be preoccupied with assembling its new administration, fighting COVID 19 and healing the rifts in American society. The Palestinian side, divided and weakened, may undergo destabilizing tremors as it faces the impending demise of the Abu Mazen era. Israel, too, is far from stable with yet another election campaign looming on its horizon. It will also take time to dispel the illusion that it is possible to muddle through without a solution to the conflict with the Palestinians. This dangerous folly found a stronger foothold in Israel throughout Trump’s presidency and has intensified in the wake of the agreements reached with the UAE, Bahrain, and Sudan.

Nevertheless, the reality on the ground will not wait for the conditions for effective diplomacy to ripen. We are getting closer to the point of no return when it will no longer be possible to divide the land between the two peoples. The number of Jews living in the territory designated for a Palestinian state (the area beyond the settlement blocs adjacent to the ‘67 lines) currently stands at about 130,000 and increases by an additional 3,000 people annually. This slide into a de facto bi-national state reality has led a significant number of Palestinians to lose faith in the feasibility of a two-state solution. More than a third of Palestinians (especially among the younger generation) now prefer a one-state outcome in which they enjoy democratic rights equal to those of the Jews.

Recent years have enabled Israeli indifference to the possibility of an official Palestinian position claiming equal rights in one state. Trump’s tenure reinforced the feeling of many Israelis that in such a scenario it would be possible to preserve democracy for Jews while depriving the Palestinians of it.

As a true friend of Israel, Biden must dispel this dangerous misconception and revive the prospect of a meaningful peace process down the road. He must warn Israel without delay that it does not have the option of becoming a non-democratic Jewish state. The US, no longer headed by Trump, will not tolerate a reality in which Israel denies democratic civil rights to non-Jews. Washington will not be able to refuse the Palestinian calls for justice when it appears. Israelis must be alerted that the US is waking up from the Trump nightmare and returning to itself. Anyone who counts on the US to act against its own conscience and put up with Jewish apartheid between the river and the sea is dead wrong. Such an historic mistake would lead to a bi-national state and the end of Jewish Israel.

About the Author
Ambassador Avi Gil, a former diplomat, served under Shimon Peres for almost 30 years in various capacities: Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff, Director-General of the Ministry of Regional Cooperation and more. Gil has been closely involved in Israel's policy-making and peace efforts, including the negotiations that led to the Oslo Accords. His book, "Shimon Peres: An Insider’s Account of the Man and the Struggle for a New Middle East," is published by I.B. Tauris. Gil is currently a Senior Fellow at the The Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI).
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