Analysis: If Netanyahu thought he had the ‘green light’ to expand settlements and build new ones as soon as Trump took office, the US president has made it clear in recent days that he is the one setting the tone. At this stage, he supports the two-state solution and plans to put a lot of effort into reaching a peace agreement.’
On the eve of Benjamin Netanyahu’s arrival at the White House for a meeting with Donald Trump, the US president is signaling to the Israeli prime minister his limits: He will be able to build within the existing settlements, but not to establish new ones and not to expand them beyond their borders. In short, he is telling him: Remain within the large settlement blocs. A building spree will be unacceptable.
The wording the White House chose to use in its statement were soft, but even with softness one can kill something that Trump or his hyperactive and unexpected team of advisors don’t approve of.
If the prime minister thought that he had the “green light” as soon as Trump took office, the president has made it clear that he is the one setting the tone. According to a special statement issued by the White House, “The American desire for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians has remained unchanged for 50 years. While we don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal.”
The wording is delicate, but the message is clear: Trump is making a further change in his stance on this issue, and at this stage, particularly after meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah on Thursday, he supports the two-state solution and plans to put a lot of pressure in a bid to reach a peace agreement through his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who has been tasked with this mission. Trump is not a man of small details.
So far, he has engaged in hooligan diplomacy: He hung up on the Australian prime minister just because the latter dared to ask whether he would honor former President Barack Obama’s commitment to take in 1,250 refugees who are in a detention camp in Australia. He proposed to the Mexican president to send American troops to take care of the “bad hombres,” he warned Iran in a tweet that he would not be as kind as Obama – and on Friday night, he even imposed further sanctions on Tehran.
Trump is not interested in the history of the countries, in the nature of their citizens, in diplomatic sensitivities and political constraints. The entire essence of his presidency and the reason he ran for president was to strike a deal. Now, he wants a deal between Israel and the Palestinians. He doesn’t care about the details, but the wording of the statement indicates that, as we speak, there are people in the White House who are leaning over maps and marking the size of the bloc, the location of the border, what Netanyahu is permitted and forbidden to do. He doesn’t have to know the exact location of Amona. He has large teams who have been working on the issue for two weeks, but he has made one thing clear to Netanyahu: There will be no building spree, not with him.
Prime Minister Netanyahu will not be the first Middle Eastern leader to meet with Trump. Their meeting will be held in Washington on February 15. On Thursday, the US president met with the Jordanian king and discussed the issue with him. Earlier, he met with British Prime Minister Theresa May, and the issue was raised in their conversation as well. The European stance is clear, in favor of the two-state solution.
Trump has changed his mind on the Israeli-Palestinian issue several times in the past. At first, at the start of the race, he said he would be neutral. Then he changed his mind and said that he supported Israel’s stance one hundred percent. Later, he said that if Israel wanted the two-state solution, he would support it but won’t lead to it. In between, he also suggested that Israel should pay for the defense aid it receives from the United States. Then he reconsidered.
The statement issued by the White House was aimed at making Netanyahu understand that he will not receive public support or silent support if he continues to expand the settlements. The statement was also aimed at indicating to the Palestinians and to the Arab states that despite what Trump may have said in the past, he is in no one’s pocket and his sympathy for Israel does not mean that he is in Israel’s pocket.
Trump plans to put a lot of effort into reaching a peace agreement between Israel and Palestinians. That is also the reason why the administration is dragging its feet on the issue of moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Trump said he would do so as soon as he took office, but in the past two weeks his spokesman Sean Spicer announced that the talks on the embassy’s relocation were only in their initial stages. When he was asked about it again he said there was no decision and that “we’re at the very early stages of that decision-making process.”
Netanyahu had hoped that with the end of Obama’s term and Trump’s arrival, he would be able to continue his policy – both in expanding the settlements and building new ones and in failing to make progress towards negotiations with the Palestinians. Now Trump is signaling in the clearest way possible which direction he plans to lead in, and it’s no coincidence that the White House issued this statement immediately after the meeting with the Jordanian king and a few days before Trump’s meeting with Netanyahu.
The president may be new, but the old truth is clear to him too, regardless of his verbal affection for Israel: There is one solution, and it contains two states for two people. Trump, who has adopted in recent days in a diplomacy of defiance against the entire world, has made it clear to the Israeli prime minister that friends will get no discounts.