What is the basis of optimism In Israel about Donald Trump? For many, it seems to be his apparent endorsement of an “outside-in” peace process.
By Nathan Thrall / The New Yorker
May 22, 2017
The outside-in approach is merely the latest in a series of failed tactics aimed at creating new incentives to make peace, rather than pursuing strategies — withholding financial assistance, to begin with — that steer the parties away from the status quo. Trump frightens Israeli leaders precisely because he is one of the only American politicians they could imagine even considering the latter approach.
Not so long ago, President Donald Trump had backers of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process worried and Israeli settlers and annexationists elated. Many were convinced that a change in U.S. policy toward Israel was imminent, not least because the President’s three main advisers on Israel were modern Orthodox Jews with ties to West Bank settlements. Mr. Trump’s chief negotiator, Jason Greenblatt, is a former West Bank yeshiva student. The new U.S. Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, until recently headed a settler fund-raising group. And the family of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, has donated to the institutions of a settlement northeast of Ramallah.
For months after Trump’s election, Palestinians couldn’t manage to arrange so much as a phone call with his senior advisers. And, at a White House press conference in February with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump himself expressed ambivalence about Palestinian statehood. Few doubted Naftali Bennett, the head of the pro-settler Jewish Home Party, when he declared that “the era of a Palestinian state is over.”
Today, however, Palestinians leaders are roundly praising Trump — not just Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority, but also Khaled Meshal, the former leader of Hamas. In Trump, they see the rare possibility of an American President who appears capable of challenging the decades-long bipartisan consensus to underwrite Israel’s occupation while making empty promises to end it. The fact that Mr. Trump is a Republican and surrounds himself with lifelong Zionists makes him seem even better positioned to twist Israel’s arm. Palestinians took note when, during the Republican primaries, Trump vowed to be a neutral mediator, refused to blame only one side for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and declined to back down when attacked, even though he had many electoral and financial incentives to do otherwise.
Ministers in the Israeli government have said that Netanyahu is nervous about Trump’s visit this week, fearful that the President is setting up an “ambush” of some kind. The opposition leader Isaac Herzog, by contrast, has praised Trump’s “impeccable” handling of the diplomatic process. Tzipi Livni, the former foreign minister, who served as the chief negotiator with the Palestinians under two Prime Ministers, said recently that with Trump, who “thinks big” and “addresses the hard core,” she “certainly think[s] something dramatic could happen.” Affirming that she is more sanguine now than at the outset of the talks led by John Kerry, she added, “This time, it looks different.”