NEW YORK — Despite pro-Israel positions taken by President-elect Donald Trump during the latter part of his campaign, as well as his likely appointments of Israel backers to key offices, many Palestinian-Americans and their supporters doubt his administration will make things any worse for Palestinians.
“Trump’s presidency, just like those before him, will mean nothing new, as Obama has already set the pace with the newly approved $38 billion aid package,” Abbas Hamideh, a Palestinian-American in Cleveland and vice chair of Al-Awda: The Palestine Right to Return Coalition, told MintPress News.
The outgoing Obama administration approved the ten-year deal, the largest military aid plan in U.S. history, in September, after more than a year of negotiations ended with Israel’s far-right prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, accepting the offer.
Many observers regarded the timing of the package, mere weeks before the presidential election, as an attempt by President Barack Obama to bolster support for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton among Israel backers, including donors and voters in Florida and other “swing states.”
The candidate herself had repeatedly emphasized her pro-Israel bona fides, going as far as to reassure top donor Haim Saban that she would “make countering BDS a priority” in a public letter that, WikiLeaks showed, was driven by Saban and other contributors.
A lockstep supporter of Israel in both the Senate and State Department, Clinton also promised to maintain close ties with Netanyahu’s extremist government, and repeatedly pledged to take U.S.-Israel relations “to the next level.”
‘A little better under the Trump administration’
As with many other issues, Trump careened wildly between conflicting positions on Israel and Palestine.
He shocked many with his initial break from pro-Israel conventions, saying he would “be sort of a neutral guy” and that a peace agreement with Palestinians “will have to do with Israel and whether or not Israel wants to make the deal — whether or not Israel’s willing to sacrifice certain things.”
Later, he settled into a hardline pro-Israel position, even going so far as to promise to move the U.S. Embassy to East Jerusalem, part of the West Bank — a pledge made, then broken, by previous candidates — and supporting Israel’s construction of illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian enclave.
Between Trump’s mercurial positions and the relatively pro-Palestinian statements of Democratic contender Bernie Sanders during the primary, the 2016 election seemed to have sidelined Israel as a campaign talking point more than any other in decades.
“It was interesting to see that this time around, Israel/Palestine was not a hot button issue in the presidential debates, and the lobby was virtually nonexistent in the election,” Noor Fawzy Ibrahim, a Palestinian-American and former Students for Justice in Palestine activist in Coral Springs, Florida, told MintPress.
“I think that the prospects for Palestinians will be a bit better under the Trump administration given that Trump, unlike his predecessors, did not depend on support from the Israel lobby.”
‘Much more likely to be unpredictable’
The president-elect’s initial steps have indicated little concern for the issue.
Along with various pro-Israel hardliners, his picks for top positions include James Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general who warned three years ago that Israel’s settlements policies were creating “apartheid” in the West Bank, and that the United States’ close ties to Israel came with a “military security price,” whom Trump chose Thursday as secretary of defense.
And while he claims to seek “the ultimate deal” between Israel and the Palestinians, few consider his presumptive envoy — his son-in-law and a key advisor to his presidential campaign, Jared Kushner — to have the gravitas needed to achieve much.
In short, it is hard to see what path, if any, Trump might chart in the Middle East.
“Hillary Clinton was the candidate of the Zionist machine and so the policy of her administration toward Israel/Palestine would have been quite predictable,” Pauline Park, chair of the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy (NYAGRA) and a longtime Palestine activist, told MintPress.
“Donald Trump is much more likely to be unpredictable.”
But in a situation already as predictable as Israel’s occupation of Palestine, many view the potential for any shakeup in the status quo as promising.
“I don’t think they will prioritize Israel as much as previous administrations did,” Ibrahim said.
“Yes, they are very right-wing and controversial, but I think that they will be focusing on a lot more domestic concerns. The public pro-Israel rhetoric will continue, but I don’t think it will be on the level we saw with previous administrations.”
‘All forms of social forces coming together’
With the United States’ military, economic, diplomatic and political support for Israel established as a seemingly permanent feature of the political landscape, unprecedented political shifts may bring fresh opportunities.
The president-elect’s record-breaking unpopularity, which has drawn tens of thousands of protesters into the streets since the start of his campaign, could tar any policies his administration maintains, including its likely, if perfunctory, support for Israel.
“The benefit of a Trump presidency is good in the sense of all forms of social forces coming together,” Hamideh said.
“If there is anything positive, it is that the people are more concerned with Trump than Hillary, but in the literal sense, it is simply the status quo with the incoming presidency.”
And while few anticipate Trump taking any steps to support Palestinians, or to challenge U.S. aid to Israel, it is hard for any to see a clear path through which he could possibly aggravate the situation further.
“There’s absolutely no telling what will happen in the Trump administration, but we can be pretty sure what would have happened in a Clinton administration,” Michael J. Smith, an attorney and supporter of Palestine in New York, told MintPress.
“She was pretty open about it. Trump may be no better, but he could hardly be worse.”
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