Israeli and Palestinian leaders reacted to Trump’s victory with the procedural congratulations offered to an American President-elect. Prime Minister Netanyahu called the Republican ‘a true friend of the State of Israel’, whilst President Rivlin, addressing Trump, said Israel ‘stands by you as your friend and partner’. Isaac Herzog, leader of the Zionist Union opposition, emphasised continued US-Israeli cooperation, writing on Facebook: ‘I am sure that the defense and economic cooperation with our strongest and most important ally will continue even more so during your presidency.’ Mahmoud Abbas congratulated Trump and hoped ‘a just peace will be achieved during his tenure’, whilst the PA Presidential Spokesman said ‘We will work with any president the American people elect on the basis of achieving peace in the Middle East’.
The most contentious words, however, came from Israeli Education Minister and hardline leader of the Jewish Home party, Naftali Bennett. “The era of a Palestinian state is over”, he said. “Trump’s victory is an opportunity for Israel to immediately retract the notion of a Palestinian state.” Bennett’s pugnacious statement reflects the perception that Trump will be more hawkish on Israel than his predecessors. The President-elect’s chief adviser on Israel, David Friedman, has argued that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are not illegal and has claimed Trump himself was “tremendously sceptical” about the prospects for a two-state solution. Trump has also promised to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem, a long-standing cause célèbre of the Israeli right.
Bennett’s proclamation, however, is the work of a political tactician rather than an objective analyst. Bennett’s Jewish Home party, sitting on the hard right of Israeli politics, has always desired the annexation of Area C of the West Bank. Yet it is highly unlikely that the two-state solution will be usurped as the desired end-goal to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by the new US administration. A majority of Israelis, Palestinians, and diaspora advocacy campaigns all support a negotiated two-state solution, as does every major international power, including Russia, the EU and the UK. Rather than changing the end-goal of the peace process, the effect of Trump’s victory will likely be to maintain the status quo. A Trump administration is unlikely to apply the antifreeze to a frozen peace process, but nor will it shatter it. In this sense, progressive advocates of a two-state solution should be disheartened but should not despair.
Peace process aside, a Donald Trump presidency heralds a new era of uncertainty in the Middle East. Trump won the election on a platform of American isolationism. His tenure will likely accelerate American withdrawal from Middle Eastern politics, handing over the role of regional kingmaker to Vladimir Putin. Trump’s main policy pronouncement was to overturn the Iran deal, but the gap between words and actions is vast, and we should not expect foreign policy expertise given Trump did not know the difference between Hamas and Hezbollah during the election campaign. Donald Trump threatens to shift the strategic focus of American foreign policy, but it is unclear to what extent he will follow through on his promises, or what his new strategy will be. It is rumoured, according to Jerusalem insiders, that Netanyahu was privately supporting Hillary Clinton due to Trump’s volatility. In the Middle East, the election of Donald Trump means the future is an unknown quantity.