Ex-Mossad Chief

Trump’s Dangerous Mistake in the Middle East

When it comes to his policy regarding the region and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Trump is an incoherent collection of unrelated decisions and whims

President Reuven Rivlin, U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the arrival ceremony in honor of Trump at Ben Gurion International Airport, May 22, 2017.
Evan Vucci/AP

Since Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, I have been keeping track of his decisions on foreign affairs and security and trying in vain to find some kind of logical common denominator, and an organized strategy based on a comprehensive spatial perception. Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize laureate in economics and a columnist for The New York Times, gave a convincing explanation for that in his column last week, entitled “Know-Nothings for the 21st Century.”

The column contains two main insights: First, the United States became the world’s greatest power because it is a country of immigrants, and anyone who fights against immigration is actually fighting against those who brought about this success. Second, among Republicans there is a majority who believe that the higher education system in the United States has a negative influence on the country, saying as proof that people with conservative viewpoints are only minimally represented in it.

These insights help me understand why, when it comes to his policy regarding the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Trump is an incoherent collection of unrelated decisions and whims. These are not based on a solid foundation of data, facts and assessments, which would make it possible to build a clear and comprehensive strategy with a good chance of bringing about its resolution.

Every intelligent person must understand that the two-state solution is an insurance policy for the State of Israel, the only way the country can save itself from itself. This is a paradigm that even Trump should understand. It is also an insurance policy for the preservation of Israel in the Middle East, as a strong regional ally of the United States, in the face of Russia’s increasing power, Iranian expansionism and Islamic terror threat.

A one-state solution – or any other “clever improvisation” – would cause Israel to descend into apartheid, turning it into a country that is deliberately eroding democracy (not only due to annexation, but even more because of the capitulation to ultra-Orthodox Judaism), inevitably becoming a burden rather than an asset to the United States. On this slippery slope, the conflict will not diminish. Instead, it will assume truly threatening proportions.

The recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, either as a punishment or an American attempt to bring the Palestinians to the negotiating table, divorced from the overall context of a solution to the conflict, is an illogical act. The same is true of Trump’s decision to freeze part of the funds that the U.S. gives to UNRWA. Both these decisions could have been correct – and maybe even worthy – if they were part of an overall strategic peace plan, in which progress includes compromises by both sides.

Trump is liable to miss a propitious time in the Middle East: an opportunity to mobilize the Sunni world in order to push out the Shi’ite minority and its Russian partner. In order to utilize it, we must let go of the foolish attempt to force Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to return to negotiations, and bring the Israeli government to the negotiating table based on the 2003 proposal by Saudi Arabia and the Arab League.

The writer is the former head of the Mossad and a member of the Commanders for Israel’s Security movement.