Trump's Israel policy is dangerous and irresponsible
© Greg Nash

So far in this year’s presidential campaign, we’ve already seen that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpShocking summit with Putin caps off Trump’s turbulent Europe trip GOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki Trump stuns the world at Putin summit MORE isn’t afraid to rip up decades of received wisdom on some of the bedrock principles that have guided our nation’s foreign policy—be it on NATO, free trade or nuclear proliferation. 

Now we see the same approach applies to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where Trump is sending strong signals that he’s ready to walk away from the two-state solution, which has been at the heart of U.S. foreign policy for most of the past three decades. And in this instance, at least, the wholesale repudiation of bedrock U.S. and Israel foreign policy goals will cost both countries.

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In an interview to CNN, a top Trump adviser on Israel — David Friedman — said the Republican party might reject altogether the idea of a two-state solution. Last month, he upped the ante telling the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that Trump doesn’t support a two-state solution and would even back an Israeli annexation of all or parts of the West Bank.  

These words are dangerous and irresponsible. But they’re not surprising coming from Friedman — a New York bankruptcy lawyer who heads the American Friends of Bet El, a settlement located in the heart of the West Bank. Ironically, Friedman and his Israeli allies are prepared to place Trump to the right of Bibi Netanyahu, whose government accepts the principle of a two-state solution. In doing so he would place Trump in the position of disrespecting Israel’s own judgments as to its national interest — a strange position for a Republican conservative.

It is not merely that Trump would break with over a half-century of bipartisan U.S. consensus on the Middle East. He would run away from the diplomatic achievements of every Republican president since Ronald Reagan. As is well known, President Reagan began the first formal dialogue between the United States and the Palestine Liberation Organization; George H.W. Bush engineered the Madrid Peace Conference. And together with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, George W. Bush signed the Annapolis Agreement in 2007.

George W. Bush himself came out foursquare for a two-state solution in 2002, telling the Palestinians: “You deserve a life of hope for your children. An end to occupation and a peaceful democratic Palestinian state may seem distant, but America and our partners throughout the world stand ready to help, help you make them possible as soon as possible.” 

As such, the 2004 Republican platform stated, “We support President Bush’s vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and security.” The 2008 platform said: “We support the vision of two democratic states living in peace and security.” And the 2012 Republican platform supported Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state with secure, defensible borders while also envisioning  “two democratic states – Israel with Jerusalem as its capital and Palestine — living in peace and security.”

If Trump really means to walk away from the principle of two states for two peoples, the consequences will be severe. It will likely lead to the collapse of the Palestinian Authority and the entrenchment of Hamas.  The Jordanians themselves have told us that it will lead to the collapse of the Hashemite monarchy. And the Saudis will almost certainly give up on the Arab Peace Initiative. Most important, the demise of the two-state solution will place at long-term risk Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.

And one wonders if Trump (or Friedman) have thought of what will happen to the West Bank Palestinians -- who are, of course, legal residents. Will they get to vote? Will they be given equal rights? Will they be deported?

Trump has come a long way since his first pronouncement on Israel in a town hall in South Carolina in February 2016, when he was asked who he blamed most for the failure to reach Israeli-Palestinian peace.  “Let me be sort of a neutral guy,” he said then. But now, he’s singing a different tune. 

It’s time for the grownups in the Trump campaign to step forward and put a stop to this blithe rejection of a long-standing principle of Republican foreign policy. The Middle East is in chaos enough.

Breger is Professor of Law, Columbus School of Law, The Catholic University of America. He held senior positions in the Reagan and Bush 41 administrations. And he served as a Special Assistant to President Reagan and his liaison to the Jewish Community.


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