Could Trump's presidency provide the shakeup that Palestine needs?

Could Trump's presidency provide the shakeup that Palestine needs?
5 min read
26 Jan, 2017
Comment: If a hardline Trump administration leads to an emboldened European Union, there could yet be a breakthrough in the stagnant peace process, writes Rory Evans.
Under Trump, the situation for Palestinians is likely to go from bad to worse [Getty]

As a development worker in Palestine, watching the nightmare of Donald Trump's inauguration felt like a death sentence.

Never before have such an extreme right-wing Israeli administration aligned with an extreme right-wing counterpart in America. Storm clouds are gathering.

Already, Trump and his hangers-on are itching to unravel longstanding US foreign policy on Israel/Palestine, by supporting long-opposed settlement expansion and moving the US embassy to Jerusalem. Trump has appointed his own son-in-law as Middle East Peace Envoy, and a pro-settler hardliner with little political experience as his ambassador to Israel.

Last week, Trump pronounced that peace in the Middle East was elusive because "Palestinians are given so much". In short, a Donald Trump presidency looks like a disaster for Palestine. And don't get me wrong, in the short-term, it certainly is.

Yet there was another presence at the Trump inauguration that made me wonder. If Hillary Clinton had won, wouldn't the situation here in Palestine have just kept ticking over, as it has been for more than fifty years, with no end in sight?

It is clear that the current lacklustre international consensus has failed to produce the long-vaunted "two-state solution". And while the peace process may have been indefinitely suspended, every second wasted is a second in which the situation for Palestinians only gets worse.

For fifty years, Western policy regarding Palestine has been characterised by toothless criticism of Israel that has never been followed by concrete action. Negotiated peace agreements like the Oslo Accords have been far more detrimental to Palestinians than they've been beneficial. The Paris Protocol, which it was alleged would provide manifold economic benefits, has been an unmitigated disaster. In short, international efforts so far have only made the occupation worse.


It's clear that failure to end the occupation lies largely with the United States. Over the course of fifty years of military occupation, the US political establishment has criticised Israel's flouting of international law in the weakest terms, while simultaneously lavishing it with budgetary assistance unparalleled in any other context.

Even Obama's recent period of frostiness with the Netanyahu administration oversaw the signing of the biggest military aid package to Israel of all time

Meanwhile, they have vetoed virtually every critical Security Council resolution that might have inched Israelis and Palestinians closer to peace. Why this was expected to encourage Israel to change its ways is a source of constant mystery. Instead, with America's unquestioning support for Israel, any international peace negotiations have been a lost cause before they'd even begun.

Even Obama's recent period of frostiness with the Netanyahu administration oversaw the signing of the biggest military aid package to Israel of all time.

Sure, Trump is much worse than these people. Frankly, his views on Israel are as terrifying as they are deeply misinformed. But for a long time, Palestinian friends and colleagues have told me that they believe Palestine's situation will have to become worse before it can become better.

Read more: Netanyahu-Trump love affair begins with anti-Palestinian measures

A Clinton presidency would have meant more of the same inaction, with the occupation rolling on and on as it has done for fifty years. A Trump presidency, on the other hand, may have already rocked the boat, shattering the cozy consensus and potentially pushing other American and international actors towards stronger support for Palestine.

In particular, long beholden to Washington's impotent Israel strategy, but with half as much enthusiasm, the European Union has become increasingly frustrated with Israel in recent years. Trump's lack of credibility on the global stage makes Western allies - aside from maybe fawning, desperate Britain - unlikely to reciprocate his new, more extreme, support for Israel.

Instead, increasing polarisation between the US and Europe may embolden a more independent European approach. With few other allies on the Israel issue, a public fall-out between Europe and America would leave a hardline Trump administration almost totally isolated on the international stage.

Even more critically, however, Trump's political shake-up already appears to be spurring a long-overdue conversation about the US-Israeli relationship on the American left.

Across decades of partisan squabbling, Democrats and Republicans have remained in virtually unanimous agreement about uncompromising US support for Israel. Donald Trump is not the first president to call for the US embassy to be moved to Jerusalem; even Bill Clinton advocated such a move, although he never followed through.

Emboldened by Trump, increasingly outrageous behaviour from Israel may spark wider anger among the US public

But as the Bernie Sanders campaign demonstrated, there is more room for a more questioning tone among Democrats. As Trump becomes increasingly hardline, it is clear he is drawing out a different approach from Democrats that could spark a greater conversation about Israel, ending the iron-cast consensus that has stunted American debate.

Emboldened by Trump, increasingly outrageous behaviour from Israel may spark wider anger among the US public, as has already been seen when Obama broke with tradition and publicly feuded with Netanyahu. Even just a greater awareness of the issues surrounding the conflict would be a positive development on both sides of the Atlantic.

These are not golden tickets to a free Palestine, nor can we even be certain they will happen. Yet, as fifty years of occupation have shown, progress on the Palestinian issue is slow and frustrating. Changing attitudes is as much dependent on Israel's unpalatable behaviour, and US political attitudes towards it, as it is on the core issues themselves.

Given the failure of the dead-end peace process and the stunted international consensus to achieve results, a dramatic shakeup of international political dynamics could - just possibly - lead to a positive outcome for Palestine.

With Trump, the situation for Palestinians is about to go from bad, to worse. But how we respond to his unprecedented attack on Palestinians is what could make all the difference.

Rory Evans is a policy researcher for an international development organisation in East Jerusalem. He has experience working in research, political analysis and programme development for a range of organisations in the UK and the occupied Palestinian territories.

Opinions in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The New Arab, al-Araby al-Jadeed, its staff or editorial board.