Israelis who support settlement expansion in the West Bank hailed Donald Trump’s election victory, calling it a milestone that offers Israel’s right-wing government a chance to permanently block a two-state solution with the Palestinians.
“The victory of Trump is a huge opportunity for Israel to immediately announce that it renounces the idea of establishing Palestine in the heart of the country,’’ said Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the leader of the pro-settler Jewish Home party. “The era of the Palestinian state is over.’’
Over the last eight years, the Obama administration has repeatedly criticized Israeli decisions to build housing in areas claimed by the Palestinians as part of a future state, often in blunt language that has stoked tension between the allies. During his first term, President Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even prodded Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into agreeing to a 10-month moratorium on settlement construction starts in the West Bank as an gesture to jump-start peace negotiations.
Right-wing Israeli leaders are encouraged by Trump’s pledge to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv, and by the Republican Party platform, which omits reference to a Palestinian state and rejects the characterization of Israel as an occupying power in the West Bank.
Emboldened by the election results, the Land of Israel caucus in the Israeli parliament, known as the Knesset, held a meeting Wednesday to celebrate the “historic” vote. “We believe that the policy of freezing and blocking settlement expansion is over,’’ said Yoav Kish, a Likud member of the Knesset. “It’s time we stop talking about two states and we start talking about building, settlements and sovereignty.’’
Netanyahu made no mention of the settlements in his congratulatory messages to Trump. The prime minister’s office said that the two leaders spoke by phone, and the president-elect invited Netanyahu to a meeting in the U.S.
The international community considers the Israeli towns built in lands captured in the 1967 Arab war as illegal settlements. Both Democratic and Republican administrations in the United States have opposed settlement activity as an obstacle to peace negotiations — and have warned that the steady expansion imperils the viability of a Palestinian state.
Palestinian officials were far less enthusiastic about Trump’s election. “We will deal with any president elected by the American people on the principle of achieving permanent peace in the Middle East based on the two-state solution,” Palestinian Authority presidential spokesman Nabil abu Rudaineh said in a statement.
At a rally in Jerusalem of pro-Trump Americans, a Trump advisor on Israel affairs vowed that the Republican would move the U.S. Embassy over the opposition of U.S. diplomats.
If it did so, “the U.S. would totally marginalize itself on U.S.-Palestine, and enrage the Arab and Muslim world,’’ said Daniel Seidemann, a U.S.-Israeli expert on Jerusalem and a peace activist.
Mahmoud Abu Aljaj, 67, a retired schoolteacher in Gaza City, said he was frightened by Trump’s anti-Muslim remarks and backing for Israeli claims to Jerusalem.
“I am afraid that the Republican president will implement his election promises and expel Muslims from America and support Israel to demolish the Al Aqsa Mosque” in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Jonathan Rynhold, an expert on U.S.-Israel ties at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, said even though Trump initially said he would seek to be a neutral mediator between Israelis and Palestinians, his support for isolationism suggests he would pull back from decades of active American mediation in the conflict. Meanwhile, he said, the Republican Party is increasingly opposed to a Palestinian state and reluctant to criticize settlements.
“He would say: ‘What do I care about Israel and the Palestinians? Let them deal with it on their own,’’’ Rynhold said. “The prospects for a two-state solution, which are poor in the immediate term anyway, will just get worse.” He cautioned that the lack of progress toward Palestinian statehood could destabilize the already weak Palestinian government in the West Bank, and sow violence.
Though that would disturb Israeli security experts, who see cooperation with Palestinian security forces as a bulwark of stability, Israeli settlers opposed to any peace accords with a Palestinian state would not miss the Palestinian Authority.
Yossi Dagan, the regional council head for Israeli settlements in the northern West Bank, said the atmosphere in the settlements was one of hope after the election. He said that he expects President-elect Trump “understands that we are not occupiers.”
“Most of the biblical places are in Samaria,’’ he continued, using the biblical name for the northern West Bank, and “a nation can’t be an occupier in its own land.”
Mitnick is a special correspondent.