In Scandinavian mythology, trolls are distorted creatures with less than average intelligence who annoy and wreak havoc among humans. After returning to public prominence in blockbusters such as “The Hobbit’ and “Lord of the Rings”, the term “troll” was embraced by the Internet savvy to denote rogue users who insult others in order to inflame social media and to disrupt legitimate conversation. Internet slang differentiates between trolling that is obsessive but random to trolling that has tactical and strategic aims, up to and including total domination.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, special envoy Jason Greenblatt and the slightly less vitriolic Jared Kushner are Trump’s trolls to the Palestinians. Under the overall “handle” @peaceteam, Friedman, Greenblatt and Kushner incessantly mock the Palestinians, belittle their demands and besmirch their national honor on the one hand while echoing the bedrock positions of the Israeli hard-right on the other. Friedman’s statement to the New York Times, by which “Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank” is a case in point: It drove the Palestinians bonkers within minutes.
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The Trumpian trolling of the Palestinians supposedly has strategic objectives. It is meant to moderate their uncompromising positions, make them “face reality” and pave the way to constructive peace talks. Kushner claims the Palestinians aren’t mature enough to rule themselves; Greenblatt has made it a habit to scold them as if they were juvenile delinquents; and Friedman periodically lets loose with a statement showing that the Trump administration has adopted the terminology of the Yesha Council. To make the message crystal clear, the administration has also cut direct aid to the Palestinian Authority and to the refugee relief organization UNRWA and is fighting them “on the beaches and on the landing grounds” of every international organization under the sun.
The Palestinians, for now, are turning a deaf ear to the U.S. message. They are entrenched in their corner, holed up in their sense of insult and grievance. They view the U.S. approach as substantive rather than tactical. They are convinced that the outstretched American hand is meant to strangle them and their national aspirations.
In their eyes, the U.S. is no “honest broker” but a mouthpiece for Benjamin Netanyahu. Under such circumstances, small wonder that the Palestinians view the U.S. invitation to a “business summit” in Bahrain as an offer that can only be refused: In their eyes, it is nothing more than a ploy to buy their capitulation for a fistful of dollars.
The attempt to secure diplomatic achievements by bluster and threat isn’t unique, of course, to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is the Trump administration’s favored modus operandi, from China and North Korea, through Tehran and Ramallah to close neighbors Canada and Mexico. Until now, the trolling tactic has achieved negligible results, as witnessed in recent days in Trump’s threat to impose 5% tariffs on Mexican imports if its government fails to stem the flow of illegal immigrants. Mexico, however, refused to blink, Trump’s threats enraged GOP legislators and the president had no choice but to declare victory, with hardly anything to show for it.
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Naturally, Benjamin Netanyahu and his right wing partners are smug as a bug in a rug. They are the righteous ones whose task, as the Jewish saying goes, is being carried out by others, in this case the world’s preeminent superpower. As far as Netanyahu is concerned, he’s in a win-win situation. The U.S. position adheres to the binary Israeli hasbara cliché “Arabs bad, Israelis good”. The administration has adopted his arrogant and arguably racist approach by which “The Arabs understand only force.” The resulting disconnect between the administration and the Palestinians mirrors his own conduct as a prime minister who disdains them and who has kept their leaders at arms length throughout most of his tenure.
The U.S. approach casts Israel as the peace-seeking good guys and the Palestinians as addicted to refusal. The occupation, as far as Kushner, Greenblatt and Friedman are concerned, is a mere nuisance. One day in the not-too-distant future, Netanyahu will be able to claim that in light of Palestinian rejectionism, Israel is volunteering to fill its part in Trump’s so-called “deal of the century” by annexing those swaths of territories it earmarks for future Israeli rule. Almost every day, one of Trump’s peace team members releases a statement showing that this is indeed its overriding goal: To ensure Israeli annexation of “parts” of the West Bank, as Friedman says, which in essence means annexation of it all.
The U.S. policy serves Netanyahu’s personal and political interests as well, including his frantic bid to escape the long arm of the law. The close alliance between Netanyahu and Trump and the tempting vision that it could fulfill their sweet dreams of owning their biblical homeland spurs the Israeli right to safeguard his rule at any price, including aiding and abetting his flight from prosecution. Friedman’s statement to The Times is a reminder to Netanyahu’s current and future coalition partners that the end of annexing Judea and Samaria justifies the means of aiding and abetting Netanyahu’s efforts to subvert his pending legal proceedings.
>>Read more: Two states, one and other solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict | Explained
Netanyahu’s critics, meanwhile, are maintaining their right to silence. Most are convinced that the U.S. is facilitating catastrophe: It is killing the two-state solution, risking a collapse of the Palestinian Authority as well as an outbreak of violence and bringing Israel closer to a nightmare choice between apartheid and a binational state. Under Netanyahu’s orchestration, however, Israeli public opinion has come to regard Trump as a valiant hero about to make biblical prophecies come true. Under these circumstances, the critics are keeping mum, preferring to mouth empty words of praise and encouragement in which they hardly believe.
After all, if it wasn’t for the fact that the euphemistically dubbed “peace team” of a U.S. president is tinkering with a life-or-death issue for the future of a liberal, democratic Israel, one could greet the hilarious escapades of his Larry, Moe and Curly with fond humor. It is, after all, a supreme farce, hilarious slapstick and side-splitting political sitcom in which a trio of trollers is trying to secure Palestinian goodwill and cooperation via a steady stream of jeers, whistles, insults and put-downs. If it weren’t so downright scary it would be loads of great fun.
To appreciate just how ludicrous the charade truly is, a simple thought experiment with a reversal of roles would suffice. Imagine if the U.S. president wasn’t Republican Donald Trump but Democrat Ronald Grump, elected to office by virtue of mass support from the radical anti-Israeli wing of his party’s left. His beloved daughter converts to Islam in order to marry a Muslim businessman who boasts about vacating his bed as a teen in honor of a visiting Mahmoud Abbas. This is the man appointed to lead a “peace team” that includes Grump’s former accountant, a devout Muslim himself, as well as his personal lawyer, who previously expressed support for the right of return and for a secular, democratic state from Jordan to the sea.
Now let’s imagine that the three Muslim musketeers, whose religion can’t be mentioned for fear of being labeled racist, regularly release statements such as “Israelis are detached from reality” or “The problem isn’t with the Palestinians, who have repeatedly voiced support for a two-state solution but Israelis who oppress them and steal their lands”. To emphasize its determination, the U.S. administration adopts the principle once espoused by British High Commissioner to Palestine Evelyn Barker by “punishing the Jews in a way the race dislikes as much as any, by striking at their pockets and showing our contempt of them.” They cut annual military aid, advocate acceptance of Palestine in all international forums and veto any Security Council resolution that might be somehow interpreted as critical of their Palestinian allies.
Israel would explode with rage, and then head down to hide in their bunkers. Violent demonstrations would be held in front of the U.S. Embassy on a daily basis, with the word “anti-Semite” starring in posters and declarations. Netanyahu would describe Grump as “a congenital Jew-hater”, enlist Republicans against the administration and even make peace with American Jews to recruit them as well. The Israeli right, needless to say, would demand cutting off ties and even declaring war. Seen through this fanciful prism, the Palestinian reaction in reality is the epitome of delicacy and restraint.