Analysis

Trump Isn’t the Best U.S. President Israel Has Ever Had, but He Might Be the Worst

The president’s deal of the century perpetuates the occupation, humiliates the Palestinians, rewards Israelis from the get go and shows them the virtues of money for nothing

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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President Donald Trump speaks during an event with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the East Room of the White House in Washington, January 28, 2020.
President Donald Trump speaks during an event with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the East Room of the White House in Washington, January 28, 2020.Credit: Susan Walsh/AP
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly described Donald Trump this week as the best U.S. President Israel has ever had. In reality, he’s a leading candidate to be anointed as the worst.

For Israel, Donald Trump is like an obnoxious uncle who is a nightmare for parents but a dream come true for adolescents, especially those on the cusp of delinquency. He’s a foul-mouthed, ill-tempered blowhard, a know-nothing know-it-all who insults everyone but thinks the world of himself. Needless to say he’s not the most popular relative in the family – with the exception of his favorite nephew, let’s call him Israel.

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Uncle Donald showers Israel with gifts, plies him with alcohol, introduces him to drugs, shows him the shadier side of town and brings him home way past bedtime. He defends Israel when he’s obnoxious, protects him when he’s done wrong, bullies relatives who dare object, and withholds their allowance if they dare persist. So they stay out of view, mumbling some faint words of flattery and recede from public view.

Uncle Donald teaches Israel that the Dire Straits song “Money For Nothing” isn’t limited to rock stars alone. Discipline, diligence and decency are for suckers, he shows by example: You’ll make your mark and get ahead in life with just the opposite. You can have gain with no pain, reap rewards with no effort, and reach your destination without a thought for those you may trample along the way.

He is Israel’s role model, guardian angel, and genie in a bottle all rolled into one. He paves Israel’s way, removes obstacles and crushes his enemies, and all he demands in return is unending fawning and constant proof that his nephew worships the ground he walks on.

What Trump calls a “vision,” in Palestinian translates into a nightmare. After 53 years in which Israel was told that the West Bank is occupied, that peace requires compromise, and that Palestinians deserve a fair shake, along comes uncle Donald, offering a painless and effortless way to reach the same target. In return for vague acceptance of a totally unrealistic presidential peace plan that the Palestinians are bound to reject, Israel gets a large chunk of territories it has long coveted. If it waits long enough – and Trump is still at the helm – it stands a good chance of laying its hands on the entire West Bank, cost-free.

Trump’s plan abandons the usual diplomatic rule that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. It allows Israel to seize its spoils immediately, while the Palestinians have to spend years proving themselves by jumping over hurdles and going through loops, with no guarantee whatsoever that they’ll get anything in return: Israel has the final say whether Palestinians have passed or failed.

Trump’s plan is rife with tall truths, deceptions and outright lies. No, there’s no connection between the timing of the presentation of the so-called “Deal of the Century” and Israeli elections (giggles in the audience). The plan is balanced and fair to both sides (yeah, right); for the first time in their history, Palestinians will have a state (or something remotely similar); Israel will have to make painful sacrifices (laughter); it’s only a matter of time before Palestinians accept the plan and the world applauds it (and then there’s a bridge Trump might sell them).

Small wonder Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing cohorts are ecstatic. After being endlessly lectured about Israel’s need to abandon dreams of a Greater Israel, part with territories and accept the Palestinians as equals, Trump ‘s peace plan proves that, on the contrary, one can have it all: Pay lip service to peace while annexing territories, maintain the occupation while blasting Palestinians for never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity (including this one, which is by far the worst proposal they’ve ever had).

Trump’s plan ditches long held principles that were hitherto seen as the very foundations of any peace process. No more 1967 borders, Security Council Resolution 242, contiguous Palestinian territory or independence in anything but name. Israel will eternally control Palestinian borders, along with entries, exits, skies, land, airwaves, exports and imports. Israel will retain the right to conduct “hot pursuits” inside Palestinian territory, at whatever time and strength it deems fit, with no need to await approval by the local authorities.

A cursory comparison of Trump’s plan with the autonomy agreement that Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat signed at Camp David leads to the inescapable conclusion that if he were alive today, Begin would be branded a flaming leftist.

The plan even contained a surprise kicker: A so-called “voluntary transfer” that includes transferring Arab villages and towns near the so-called Green Line while revoking the Israeli citizenship of its residents. It’s as if someone decided that enraging the Palestinians isn’t enough and that their Israeli cousins need to be humiliated as well with an odious offer hitherto confined to racists and xenophobes.

In exchange for Trump’s generous bounty, all Benjamin Netanyahu has to do is to swear total allegiance to his benefactor, stretch the English language to accommodate an endless stream of fawning superlatives, embrace Trump’s friends to his bosom and blast the President’s enemies as Arab-loving anti-Semites. Seems a small price to pay, especially for someone like Netanyahu who is no stickler for actually believing what his mouth is saying.

Trump, however, isn’t the best U.S. President in Israel’s history; arguably, he might very well be the worst. He is catering to the messianic instincts of a distinct right-wing minority. He is killing the two-state solution, not softly, but with a sledgehammer. He is consigning Israel at best, to bi-nationalism and, at worst, to apartheid. He is condemning Palestinians to eternal occupation, subjugation and humiliation.

Trump has been very generous in issuing declarations, proclamations and now even peace proposals that have received enthusiastic receptions in Israel and crowned him its best friend forever. One thing seems quite certain however: When things get real and Israel cries for help that goes beyond mere words and may entail a political price, the best friend Israel has ever had in the White House will disappear from view, nowhere to be found.

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