Originally published under the title “Trump Is No Obama on Middle East Policy.”
After their first meeting, with cameras broadcasting their every word across the globe, President Obama turned to Donald Trump and pledged “to do everything we can to help you succeed.” Media outlets across the spectrum fawned over his magnanimity.
Guess again. Washington DC insiders widely expect the president to launch a bold effort to constrain the president-elect’s options in dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by supporting unilateral international recognition of Palestinian statehood, possibly in the UN Security Council.
U.S. policy has long maintained that a Palestinian state should be established in conjunction with a comprehensive peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA).
While Israel has said time and time again that it is eager to live alongside a Palestinian state, the Palestinian leadership has remained unwilling to make the necessary concessions for a final status agreement, such as accepting the existence of a Jewish state alongside their own. Indeed, PA President Mahmoud Abbas has steadfastly maintained that millions of Palestinians must have the “right of return” to Israel – a move that would effectively eviscerate a Jewish Israel.
Instead of pursuing a peaceful path to statehood, Palestinian leaders have incited violence against Israel, while trying to persuade the rest of the world to recognize Palestinian statehood in the absence of peace.
Amid surging anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, European governments have come under intense pressure to recognize a Palestinian state. Sweden was the first Western European government to do so in 2014. Legislatures in the United Kingdom, Spain, and France have passed (largely non-binding) resolutions doing so.
Successive U.S. administrations have vocally opposed unilateral recognition of Palestinian statehood by the United Nations and other international actors, maintaining correctly that it would irreparably damage the prospects for a viable, secure two-state solution.
In a position paper released last week, the Trump campaign emphasized that “the U.S. cannot support the creation of a new state where terrorism is financially incentivized, terrorists are celebrated by political parties and government institutions, and the corrupt diversion of foreign aid is rampant,” pledged to veto any UN action that unfairly targets Israel, and affirmed that Palestinians must first “renounce violence against Israel or recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state” before being granted statehood.
In seeking to overturn longstanding precedent and thwart the expressed policy positions of his successor, Obama presumably hopes that supporting (or not vetoing) a UN Security Council resolution on Palestinian statehood will create an irreversible fait accompli that will eventually spur Israel to make concessions, like a settlement freeze, which will in turn strengthen moderates on the Palestinian side.
It’s the same thinking that led the United States to make concession after concession in the Iran nuclear deal, and it is likely to backfire in the same way. Unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state will communicate to Palestinian leaders that they do not need to concede anything and validate the use and incitement of violence, vindicating hardliners.
Until the Palestinian leadership can recognize and accept a Jewish state in the land of Israel, the United States must continue working to prevent international recognition of a Palestinian state.
A Trump national security adviser warned the Obama administration last week not “to try to push through agenda items that are contrary to the president-elect’s positions.” President-elect Trump should follow up by publicly reaffirming that his administration will vigorously oppose unilateral recognition of Palestinian statehood and will not be bound by commitments the current administration has made or will make regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The rest of us should do our part by calling on President Obama to respect the will of voters and allow his duly-elected successor to chart a new course in Mideast policy without any impediments.