Analysis: What will a Trump Presidency mean for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process?

Donald Trump’s ascendancy to the American Presidency has worried advocates of a two-state solution across the globe. A number of early proposals and statements have aligned the incoming Republican President with both sceptics and opponents of a two-state deal. Heavy criticism followed Trump’s appointment of bankruptcy lawyer David Freidman as US Ambassador to Israel, due to Freidman’s open opposition to two states and support for West Bank settlements. Similarly, Trump’s promise to relocate the American Embassy to Jerusalem has drawn vociferous opposition from Mahmoud Abbas, who said the move would not only ‘deprive the United States of all legitimacy in playing a role in conflict resolution, it would also destroy the two-state solution’. Trump was also opposed to UN Resolution 2334, criticised John Kerry’s subsequent speech, and his advisers ‘strenuously’ objected to the Paris Peace Conference.

The doomsday scenario – that Trump shifts American policy away from a two-state solution – is extremely unlikely. Friedman’s appointment was far more about cronyism than policy, and major decisions will be made in Washington by the President and his Cabinet. Trump’s appointments here suggest a dramatic change in approach is unlikely. In his Senate confirmation hearing, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the two-state solution was ‘the dream that everyone is in pursuit of’, whilst Secretary of Defence General Mattis has gone even further, saying in 2013 that the current situation in Israel was ‘unsustainable’, that a two-state deal was a matter of urgency, and that settlements were an obstacle to that goal. In his recent interview with Michael Gove, Trump indicated that his son-in-law Jared Kushner will be his Israel-Palestine mediator, indicating a desire to seal ‘the ultimate deal’. Similarly, the American Embassy is likely to stay put, with Israel’s Channel 2 reporting that a compromise may be reached where the Embassy stays in Tel Aviv but Freidman works in the USA’s Jerusalem consulate.

Instead, Trump’s approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict is likely to resemble a traditional Republican perspective. The Obama administration’s focus on settlements is likely to be replaced with more emphasis on Palestinian violence against Israeli civilians. In his Senate hearing, Rex Tillerson said the Palestinian leadership must do ‘something to at least interrupt [terror attacks] or prevent it,’ arguing that this must occur before there can be ‘any productive discussion around settlements.’ Trump’s administration is also likely to echo Netanyahu’s line that international conferences and UN declarations do nothing to advance the peace process, and that direct negotiations are the only path to peace. The net effect of this approach will likely be to simply maintain the status quo. This is not something proponents of a two-state solution would welcome, but neither the disaster many fear a Trump Presidency will bring.

However, it is worth noting that any prediction of Trump’s intentions must be considered with a heavy dose of scepticism. The President-elect will be no ordinary President. Trump’s apparent determination to reverse key principles of American foreign policy introduce new variables that could throw his policy towards Israel-Palestine in a new direction. His desire to align America closer to Russia, for example, could involve greater accession to Putin’s Middle East vision, which is more pro-Iran, pro-Assad, and anti-Israel. Secondly, Trump’s professed isolationism could lead him to withdrawing from the Israeli-Palestinian peace process entirely, leaving Middle Eastern affairs on the backburner for his time in office. As with many other policy issues, with Donald Trump, very little is certain.