Take Trump to Task on Israel-Palestine

Passionate displays of solidarity with the Israeli and Palestinian people are quite common in Claremont. Achieving justice in the region is of special importance to many in our community, with over 60 students in Claremont’s three registered organizations devoted to Israel-Palestine. Each of these organizations advocates Palestinian statehood, in opposition to the Trump administration. We must, therefore, unify in pressuring our leaders to reverse this stance before all opportunities for a just settlement are lost.

For the first time in decades, the President of the United States belongs to a party whose platform rejects support for a Palestinian state and asserts that Israel is not an occupying power. The effects were immediate: Since Trump’s inauguration, Israel approved a settlement increase of 5,000 housing units in the West Bank–merely a “taste” of what is to come, according to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Indeed, several Israeli lawmakers have already proposed a bill to begin annexing the settled areas of the West Bank, a move which would severely inhibit the prospects for any lasting peace. Trump has since said that such settlements “might not be helpful,” but has taken no action to stop their construction.

As the only country impacting Israeli policy, the United States has a special duty to combat the ceaseless abuse of Palestinians, in which “Gazans are virtually sealed within the [Gaza] strip, while West Bankers, their lands dismembered by relentless Israeli settlement, will continue to be penned into fragmented geographic spaces, isolated behind and between walls and barriers,” according to Sara Roy, a Palestinian specialist at Harvard University’s Center for Middle East Studies. The Israeli blockade and settlements create a formally segregated West Bank, which forces Palestinians to use separate and unequal facilities from the settlers living beside them and traps Gazans in a virtual open-air prison. Aid from the United States enhances Israel’s capability to settle the West Bank. The U.S. government has also provided diplomatic cover for these atrocities by blocking Palestinian statehood at the UN since 1976. Despite this, American supporters of Israeli policy disclaim responsibility for remedying this crisis.

When Republicans rejected their 2012 platform, which envisioned “two democratic states—Israel with Jerusalem as its capital and Palestine—living in peace and security,” many supporters of the Israeli government dropped all pretense of supporting Palestinian self-governance. Despite the endorsement from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)—an Israeli advocacy group—of two states on its website, AIPAC spokesman Marshall Whitman applauded Republicans for “taking a strong pro-Israel stand” by rejecting a two-state solution. David Friedman, Trump’s nominee for ambassador to Israel, agreed, asserting that “the Israelis have to make the decision on whether or not to give up land to create a Palestinian state… [Trump] does not think it is an American imperative.”

This stance serves only the U.S. and Israeli governments. The claim that the occupation is necessary for Israel’s security is entirely meritless. Security concerns are no excuse for imposing human rights abuses on a population, and the occupation also endangers Israeli civilians. It is absurd to suppose that terror attacks on Israeli civilians will decrease when they are incentivized to live on land obtained by destroying Palestinian communities. Nor do the global images of the United States and Israel benefit from being complicit in such atrocities. This destructive stance will continue unless we compel our government to change it.

Organizations identifying as “pro-Israel” share the responsibility for bringing such pressure. Groups like AIPAC can no longer proclaim support for a Palestinian state while opposing any measure that might lead to one. They must choose between being pro-Israeli government and pro-Israeli population. If they are serious about peace, they must call on the United States to support full settlement withdrawal, removal of the barriers and segregated roads fragmenting the West Bank, removal of the blockade of Gaza, and a fully independent Palestinian state. This entails endorsing the annual “Peaceful Settlement of the Question of Palestine” UN resolution, which would implement the globally accepted arrangement: Israeli sovereignty within its pre-1967 borders, with the remaining area constituting an independent Palestine. It involves tying U.S. aid to Israeli recognition of Palestinian statehood and opposing U.S. government association with companies providing equipment used in worldwide human rights abuses, including the occupation.

It is abundantly clear that the current American and Israeli administrations have no intention of recognizing Palestinian statehood. It is, therefore, impossible to both support a Palestinian state and tolerate these administrations’ stances. Despite being accepted by virtually the entire world for forty years, the two-state solution is no longer a bipartisan issue in the United States, and refusing to take any action that might upset our ruling party cannot continue.

To those who believe that taking Trump to task would jeopardize the United States-Israel relationship, I ask: would the United States-Israel relationship be healthier if Trump was not held accountable for his actions? Is it strengthened by allowing Israel’s government to be as aggressive as it wants, without accountability to the United States or the rest of the world, as Trump and Friedman appear to advocate? And, above all, are threats from powerful interests ever an excuse to refuse to stand up for those in need?

We face a choice: prioritize Israeli expansion above all else in the name of an imagined existential threat to one of the most powerful nations on Earth, or join the rest of the world in supporting self-determination for all peoples. We must quickly and decisively choose the latter path.

Jesse Lieberfeld PO ‘17 is a Philosophy, Politics, and Economics major from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He loves sugary snacks and salty Supreme Court opinions. 

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