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February 8, 2017 2:42 pm

Room for Cautious Optimism on Trump’s Israel Policy

avatar by Dror Eydar

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Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO.

Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO.

It’s natural that part of the media, hostile to the settlements and dreaming of an Islamist terror entity overlooking central Israel (which is what a “Palestinian state” would mean), will be thrilled at the White House’s recent declaration about further Israeli construction in Judea, Samaria and east Jerusalem.

Since President Donald Trump was elected, certain observers and pundits have been locked into a pathological mood known as “We told you so!” Don’t worry — when he was sworn in, I urged everyone to lower their expectations. The new president isn’t a messiah; he’s here to work, unlike his predecessor, whose believers messianized him to save humanity and left behind fewer living human beings and fewer functioning states than when he started.

We still don’t know what Trump’s policy on Israel will look like, although his statements and some of his appointments have been reassuring to those who suffered during former President Barack Obama’s tenure. In any case, we must not cave to the misleading picture created by various reports that Trump has gone back to the US’s traditional anti-settlement policy. Certainly not.

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For the first time in a long time, the White House has declared that the settlements are not an obstacle to peace. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that, in his first meeting with Obama, he was warned not to “build a single brick” beyond the Green Line, including in Jerusalem. The ruins the Obama administration left behind include UNSC Resolution 2334, which determined that the settlements have “no legal validity and constitute a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution and a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace.”

In his last speech as secretary of state, John Kerry didn’t talk about the problems in Russia, China, Africa, at the South Pole or on Mars, but rather stood there like a J Street or Peace Now preacher and spent an hour explaining why the settlements are the root of all the evils of the world.

Both Obama and Kerry said their support for the Security Council resolution was not “anti-Israel.” The opposite — they were thinking of what was best, because they wanted to safeguard the “two-state solution.” According to them, the thing that was preventing that amazing solution, which no one before them had ever thought of, was that same Jewish settlement in the places the Jews had dreamed of returning to for 2,000 years.

Indeed, Trump, please take note: The settlements are not an obstacle to peace. The declaration that “the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal” sounds like lip service. Compare that to the fierce, unequivocal condemnations from the previous administration. Moreover, it sounds like construction within existing settlements is totally acceptable. The borders of the settlements are outlined, and they’re big enough to accommodate a million additional Jews.

Professor Eugene Kontorovich, an expert in international law, said that the White House statements mark “a huge change of policy, in which the US broadly accepts all building within settlements, including those settlements outside of ‘blocs.'” Kontorovich added that while the media was trying to portray the announcement as a check on construction, it was actually a “broad, historic green light.” By the way, I looked with a fine-tooth comb and couldn’t find anyone saying anything about what wasn’t mentioned: the Palestinians.

Nevertheless, patience is in order: Donald Trump may be inscribed in large gold letters in the history of our people as one who, at a critical historic moment, aided the return to Zion; however, the future of the settlements doesn’t depend on the US or the world, but on us alone — on our determination and strengthened awareness of our simple, natural right to our land.

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