No American president caused Hamas’ surprise assault across the Gaza border that killed over 900 Israelis—mostly in deliberate, brutal attacks on civilians, including 260 at a music festival—and kidnapping about 150 more. But U.S. policy, especially the Trump administration’s, contributed to the unsustainable situation that made an outbreak of violence more likely.
Claims that “Trump brought peace to the Middle East” are almost an inversion of reality.
He shifted U.S. policy fully in Israel’s favor—reducing support for the Palestinians and treating their quest for statehood as something that could be ignored—and shaped the regional context by heightening confrontation with Iran without strategic benefit.
Let’s start with Trump’s relatively most positive contribution, the Abraham Accords. That deal normalized relations between Israel, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), opening flights that sent tourists to each other for the first time.
All three of those countries are small, wealthy American partners that oppose Iran, making an agreement easier. Bahrain hosts the U.S. Navy’s Central Command and the Fifth Fleet. The Trump administration greased the skids with the UAE by authorizing F-35 fighter jet and Reaper drone sales, making them the only country in the Middle East besides Israel with advanced stealth aircraft.
But whatever you think of that price, more peace is a positive development and could provide a stepping stone for a wider Arab-Israeli deal, as the Biden administration has been attempting with Saudi Arabia.
But lying about the Abraham Accords, stretching them into “the dawn of a new Middle East,” and playing them up for an American domestic audience was emblematic of Trump’s larger failure. He threw America’s weight behind Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s squeeze-and-ignore approach to the Palestinians as if the fundamental problem of people displaced and living under occupation would just go away.
Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the U.S. embassy there, breaking American policy since the 1979 Camp David Accords that treated the city as disputed, given Palestinian claims to a capital in East Jerusalem. Trump cut $25 million in U.S. support for Palestinian hospitals, and $200 million from the UN Relief and Works Agency, which has helped displaced Palestinians and their descendants since 1949. In early 2020, Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner put out a “peace plan” that mostly just proposed giving Israel what it wants and dismissing Palestinian concerns.
Meanwhile, Israel expanded settlements in the West Bank, along with the corresponding military/policing presence that defends setters from violence (including when the settlers commit some). On the other half of the Palestinian territories, Israel kept Gaza under blockade and fought occasional wars with Hamas. The Israeli government moved further and further right, pursuing West Bank annexation, and the two-state solution, which was never that plausible to begin with, became more and more a pipe dream.
That describes the last decade and a half, since Hamas forcibly took control of Gaza in 2007. Trump gave Israel things it wanted without getting anything in return, and encouraged Netanyahu’s sense that Israel could build international relationships, cultivate partnerships with Arab states who share fears of both Iran and jihadists, and ignore the Palestinians. [Continue reading…]