Donald Trump’s foreign policy is all about advancing the interests of Donald Trump, and the release of his Israeli-Palestinian “peace plan” is yet another illustration of Trump’s disregard for America’s national security when he believes doing so will benefit him personally.
At the same time that Trump’s lawyers stood on the floor of the US Senate defending the president from impeachment charges of abuse of power, and in Jerusalem the Israeli attorney general filed an indictment for corruption against the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, the two leaders stood together in the White House in an attempt to distract from their domestic problems and feed their political bases.
The plan that Trump unveiled is 181 pages long with lots of details and charts, but it does not deserve to be treated as a serious policy document. Instead, it is a giant middle finger to the Palestinian people and hurts America and the Israeli people by damaging America’s role as a supporter of peace.
The document claims to outline a vision for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, but it will only create more obstacles to progress. The plan gives Israel just about everything Israeli hardliners want – security control in much of the West Bank, an undivided capital in Jerusalem and Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley and Israeli settlements. Meanwhile, the Palestinians get nothing – but that is little surprise considering that the plan was developed without consulting them. The response of the president of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, summed it up: “After the nonsense we heard today we say a thousand noes …”
While a two-state solution was on life support before Trump took office, Trump’s actions – recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, slashing US financial support to Palestinian refugees and now this plan – will only make peace more difficult, if that were possible. In the near term, it could cause violence – a consequence Trump’s own state department seems aware of, as it released a security warning to Americans in Israel the same day that Trump released his plan. Over the longer term, Trump’s approach will further poison America’s ability to be seen by the Palestinians as a potential partner in facilitating peace – in response to Trump’s plan, the top Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, wrote in the Washington Post that, “The United States is once again proving that it is part of the problem …” And by giving Netanyahu and Israel’s right wing a blank check of support for their radical positions, Trump has emboldened those in Israel who want to pursue a vision in which peace with the Palestinians is impossible.
For Trump, the real purpose of this charade is advancing his personal interests. Trump has been impeached by the House of Representatives and is being tried by the Senate for attempting to extort Ukraine to smear a political rival. This impeachable act was born of a desire to use his official position to advance his own personal interests – and in a way that undermined America’s interests in supporting Ukraine in its fight against Russia.
This should come as no surprise – Trump’s entire foreign policy is about helping himself. He rushes into summit meetings with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, so that he can claim victory despite making no progress. He starts a trade war with China and then signs a deal that puts America in a worse position than when the trade war started, all so Trump can act like he fulfilled a campaign promise of being a tough negotiator with China.
And then there are Trump’s myriad potential business conflicts of interest. They throw into doubt the Trump administration’s foreign policy decisions around the world – such as giveaways to Turkey and China, where the Trump family has business interests – and raise suspicions about Trump’s true motives, suspicions reportedly even shared by Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton.
So it is to be expected that Trump would try to distract from his impeachment trial with a political stunt that hurts American interests. In a telling sign of its purpose, the audience for Trump’s event was not filled with Palestinian or regional leaders, but rather with donors like Sheldon Adelson and the evangelical Christian leaders that form a core part of Trump’s domestic political base. The message was clear: Trump’s foray into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is all about doing favors for his political supporters.
Netanyahu also wants to use this Trump plan to help his political fortunes at home. After failing, for two consecutive elections, to win the support necessary to form a government – and being indicted for corruption – Netanyahu is at risk of not only losing office, but going to jail. That is why, just weeks away from yet another election, Netanyahu came to the White House to stand by Trump’s side to roll out a US policy proposal that would give Netanyahu and his hardline Israeli supporters American cover for pursuing Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank.
In recent years, the prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians already seemed distant at best – and yet, all Trump has done is exacerbate the problems. The more that Israel expands settlements in the West Bank and the more that Trump attempts to normalize radical US policy positions, the more difficult it will be to jump-start a new peace process in the future. Meanwhile, the Palestinian people continue to suffer under Israeli occupation and policies that stifle the most basic freedoms and economic opportunity.
The two-state solution is the only path to peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and no matter how challenging it is to achieve, America’s role must be to support that goal and the peaceful aspirations of both Palestinians and Israelis.
But Trump couldn’t care less. Like his blatant disregard for the people of Hong Kong, the Ukrainian soldiers fighting and dying against Russia, or those fleeing violence in Central America – and the ways that all of that indifference undermines US national security – Trump does not care what kind of damage his policies inflict as long as they help his own political interests.