Patriacide. Nationcide. Whatever you want to call it, that is what Israel is doing with its settlement policy: it is killing itself. If ever greater numbers of Jewish settlers are installed on land regarded by Palestinians as the basis for a state of their own, the possibility of a two-state solution grows ever more remote. Yet the single state alternative, involving annexation of the West Bank, would result in a country where Arabs vastly outnumber Jews and then you won’t have a one-state or a two-state solution: you’ll have a no-state solution. For those who love Israel and wish to preserve a democratic Jewish homeland, as much as for those who hate it, the settlements must stop. That’s what many left-wing Israelis and their friends say. But defenders of the settlements see things very differently. The two-state solution has long been a dead letter in their view: why stop building settlements in the name of a peace plan that is frankly unattainable? Whatever the eventual solution — it could even be a West Bank jointly governed by Jordan and Israel — there is no good reason why both Israelis and Palestinians shouldn’t both expand their settlements in the interim before an eventual peace deal.
Sure, there’s plenty of confusion, diplomatic malpractice and dysfunction in Trumpian foreign policy. But on two critical issues it is deadly functional: The administration is focused like a laser beam on
- irreversibly burning U.S. bridges to Iran and
- administering last rites to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
And if you look at the administration’s actual policies, it’s clear they aren’t just meant to overturn President Barack Obama’s actions, but also to create points of no return—so that successor administrations cannot revert to past approaches even if they want to. If the administration succeeds—and it’s well on its way to doing so—it will have fundamentally damaged U.S. national interests for years to come.
The administration has now done a complete about-face. Whatever Trump’s personal inclinations to prove he’s the world’s greatest negotiator on Iran, his hard-line advisers, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, want to get rid of the mullahs who rule the Islamic Republic, not engage them. Pompeo and Bolton are now pulling out all the stops not only to provoke Iran into withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—and maybe into a fight as well—but to block a successor from engineering either a broader geopolitical pivot toward Iran or to engage in diplomacy to resolve outstanding U.S-Iranian differences. The administration’s Monday announcement that it will end all waivers of sanctions on countries still importing Iranian oil fits this pattern of relying on coercion and intimidation rather than diplomacy. As for Israel, whatever the president’s personal views on Israeli-Palestinian peace (and during the campaign they were more balanced than they are today), Jared Kushner and his team now seem hellbent on producing a “made in Israel” peace plan that will be dead before arrival and drive the final nail in the coffin of a peace process that is already on life support.
Last year, Pompeo laid out 12 extreme demands that Tehran would have to meet before the Trump administration would agree to re-engage with Iran. The demands would have required Iran to give up all its rights under the JCPOA and to stop pursuing what Tehran sees as its legitimate interests in the region—for example, helping to stabilize Iraq and supporting the government of Adil Abdul-Mahdi to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq. This diktat was swiftly and angrily rejected by the Iranian government.
No amount of economic or diplomatic pressure the U.S. brings to bear on Tehran will force it to knuckle under to these orders. But the administration’s fantastical demands have established a standard that will be used to judge any future nuclear agreement a Democratic, or different kind of Republican, administration might negotiate with Iran, which will almost certainly require both U.S. and Iranian compromises. That means a president who fails to meet these standards will be accused of appeasement, making compromise as well as domestic support for a new agreement far more difficult. The administration is not just killing the Iran nuclear deal; it’s stopping it from coming back to life.
The administration’s decision to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a Foreign Terrorist Organization is also willfully and unnecessarily confrontational, and once done, given the hardcore, militant and enduring nature of the IRGC, it will be nearly impossible to undo. A successor administration, if it did try to undo the designation, would find itself vulnerable to the charges of enabling state-sponsored terrorism. The move will strengthen hard-liners in Iran who oppose accommodation with the U.S. and weaken those elements within the country which favor improved relations with America, who will now have no choice other than to remain silent or close ranks behind the IRGC, further diminishing opportunities for future engagement and diplomacy with Iran. Empowered hard-liners will crack down even more harshly on Iranians who want less political oppression, greater respect for human rights, and more political and civil liberties. All these results were no doubt intended by Pompeo and Bolton, and work together with the economic warfare the administration is waging against Iran, which is aimed at provoking internal unrest inside the country that could ultimately lead to a toppling of clerical rule. The imposition of the total embargo on Iranian oil exports, if successful, will inflict even more economic misery on the Iranian people, hardening the perception that the U.S. government is an enemy not only of the ruling regime but also of the Iranian people—an attitude that will make it harder to ratchet down hostility toward America in the future.
In what would deliver the final coup de grace to any normalization of future U.S.-Iranian relations, Pompeo and Bolton are doing everything they can to goad Iran into a military conflict with the U.S.There is a growing risk that U.S. forces and Iranian IRGC units and Iranian-backed militias could stumble their away into an unintended conflict, especially in Iraq or Syria but also in Yemen, where the administration’s unstinting support for the Saudi Arabia’s inhumane and ineffectual military campaign against the Iranian-backed Houthis risks further provoking Houthi missile attacks on the Kingdom, creating a pretext for the Trump administration to come to the Kingdom’s defense.
There are a number of steps the U.S. could take to mitigate the risks of an unintended conflict with Iran. But the administration has failed to create diplomatic or operational arrangements for communications and crisis management with Iran, suggesting that its goal is not to prevent such a conflict but to deliberately provoke one. And predictably, the IRGC designation has met with a hostile Iranian response: The Iranian Majlis (parliament) has declared every American soldier in the Middle East a terrorist. Thousands of U.S. military personnel are now wearing targets on their backs. Because they operate in close proximity to IRCG units and Iranian-backed militias in Syria and Iraq, the odds have increased dramatically that there will be some kind of confrontation with a high risk of escalation. In other words, U.S. actions have helped set the stage for a U.S.-Iranian conflict that could rule out reconciliation for many more years.
A less confrontational relationship with Iran isn’t this administration’s only casualty. It is also doing all it can to kill and bury the long-standing policy of seeking a two-state solution to achieve a conflict-ending settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.
Over the past year, the administration has waged a relentless campaign of economic and political pressure against the Palestinians—
- closing the PLO office in Washington,
- withdrawing U.S. assistance from the U.N. agency that supports Palestinian refugees and
- cutting aid to the Palestinian Authority.
While the details of the Kushner plan have been shrouded in secrecy for over a year, the way his team has operated and leaks to the media suggest a plan that gives priority to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s politics and needs—one that is reportedly heavy on economic issues and light on the core issues of
- refugees and
- Palestinian statehood.
Even if the words “two-state solution” were uttered, the administration’s view of the Palestinian state is clearly a far cry from the size and contiguity that any Palestinian leader could accept as part of a deal. In this way, the Trump administration’s policies don’t just roll back the very idea of a meaningful two-state solution and push the Palestinians further away from engaging seriously in negotiations leading to a settlement. They also, in aligning so closely with Netanyahu’s vision, make a deal much less likely in future.
For example, the administration’s gratuitous decision—untethered from any U.S. national interest—to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and open an embassy there
- inflicted serious damage on U.S. credibility as a mediator,
- marginalized the Palestinian Authority as a key U.S. interlocutor, and
- subordinated U.S. policy toward the Palestinians to U.S. policy toward Israel.
The administration’s treatment of Jerusalem has drawn a clear hierarchy: Israel’s needs are indisputable and sacred, Palestinian needs are negotiable and worldly. The prospects for a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem are now more remote than ever: With continuing Israeli efforts to formalize their control over all of Jerusalem and the presence of more than 300,000 Israelis living there, it’s hard to imagine there will be either political or territorial space for the establishment of a real Palestinian capital.
Once annexed, there will be no possibility of any solution that involves separating Israelis and Palestinians, thereby condemning them both to live in a one-state reality that is a prescription for unending conflict and violence. In the cruelest of ironies, the administration’s plan to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could extinguish any hope of a diplomatic solution to separate Israelis and Palestinians, and instead guarantee perpetual conflict.
So if the chances of the plan’s success are slim to none, especially in light of the recent Israeli election and the emergence of a very right-wing government, why launch it? The answer is obvious: We believe the administration has defined success in other ways. With zero chance of getting an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, the administration’s real end game is to fundamentally alter U.S. policy toward the conflict and to do everything possible to raise the odds that no successor can reverse the new ground rules. And there may be no time better than now. Listen to U.S. Ambassador David Friedman—a key influencer of the administration’s policy—at last month’s AIPAC conference: “Can we leave this to an administration that may not understand the need for Israel to maintain overriding security control of Judea and Samaria and a permanent defense position in the Jordan Valley?” he asked. “Can we run the risk that one day the government of Israel will lament, ‘Why didn’t we make more progress when U.S. foreign policy was in the hands of President Trump, Vice President Pence, Secretary Pompeo, Ambassador Bolton, Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt, and even David Friedman?’ How can we do that?”
The goal isn’t just to drive a stake through the peace process but to ensure that America’s traditional conception of a two-state solution won’t rise from the dead.
Why couldn’t a new administration truly committed to engaging Iran and pushing forward on a two-state solution simply return to traditional policies? We cannot rule this out; but this possibility faces very long odds, particularly if the Trump administration is in charge until 2024.
Even under normal circumstances with a committed and highly skilled administration, Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are excruciatingly difficult issues even to manage, let alone resolve. Success depends on leaders America can’t control who have conflicting interests and their own domestic constraints and, in the case of Iran, on bitterly suspicious adversaries; the issues are politically radioactive for all parties and perceived to be existential, too. And the longer these conflicts persist the more entrenched attitudes become and options for progress contract. Indeed, time is an enemy not an ally; and even under the best of circumstances, any number of deal breakers are always present. In its own inimitable way, the administration is well on its way to hanging “closed for the season” signs on both improving relations with Iran and on a two-state solution and, sadly, irreversibly damaging American credibility and national interests in the process.
Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, has no history of openly associating with bigotry. In fact, McMaster has throughout his career emphasized the need to work constructively with foreign Muslim populations.
.. the dramatic divide among Trump’s top foreign policy advisers. On one side are career military personnel who understand that antagonizing Muslims is both offensive to American values and damaging to the country’s security. On the other side are inexperienced, radical ethno-nationalists who shrug off international norms and believe that peaceful coexistence with the world’s Muslims is unlikely and undesirable.
.. McMaster has been a vocal proponent of protecting civilians in war zones and avoiding the “clash of civilizations” approach favored by Trump and his top advisers.
.. McMaster said that the United States must partner with people in Muslim-majority countries to defeat groups like the Islamic State, describing them as “the people who are suffering the most” from terrorism. McMaster added that to win such conflicts,U.S. forces must understand the history and social dynamics of the countries it is fighting in, as well as have “empathy for the people among whom these wars are fought.”
.. McMaster has also criticized agenda-driven D.C. think tanks and foreign policy seemingly driven by the weapons industry. In a 2015 speech at the University of South Florida, McMaster said that “the military-industrial complex may represent a greater threat to us than at any time in history.”
.. Mattis assured reporters during his recent meeting with Iraqi political and military leaders that, Trump’s frequent comments to the contrary, the United States would not try to seize Iraq’s oil. “I think all of us here in this room, all of us in America, have generally paid for our gas and oil all along, and I’m sure that we will continue to do that in the future,” he said. “We’re not in Iraq to seize anybody’s oil.”
.. Mattis believed that treating Iraqis with respect was essential to American security. He investigated abuses of prisoners in Iraq and helped stop the use of torture at one prison where an Iraqi in U.S. detention had died after being beaten.
.. Mattis believes that Israel’s continued military occupation of the Palestinians threatens American security and could lead to an apartheid-style situation. Asked about conflict with Iran during a 2016 interview, he replied, “It would be bloody awful, it would be a catastrophe if we have to have another war in the Middle East like that.”
White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon
.. He’s also a true believer in the idea that the United States cannot coexist with Islam.
.. “Islam is not a religion of peace. Islam is a religion of submission. Islam means submission,”
.. in a documentary he once pitched titled “Islamic States of America.” In that film, he imagined a future United States where all the major institutions of society were ominously controlled by Muslims.
Sebastian Gorka reports to Bannon and has emerged as one of the chief White House ideologues pushing for the United States to take a more forceful stance on Islam.
.. He is also an associate of notorious anti-Muslim conspiracist Frank Gaffney
Senior Adviser Stephen Miller belongs to a new generation of far-right activists who argue that Western civilization is under attack by uncontrolled immigration and the spread of radical Islam.
.. he put together events to promote a “Terrorism Awareness Project” aimed at exposing the threat of “Islamofascism” — a term created by far-right activist David Horowitz
.. “Gripped by complacency and the omnipresent force of political correctness, our nation has failed to educate our youth about the holy war being waged against us and what needs to be done to defeat the Jihadists that are waging this war,” Miller wrote
CIA Director Mike Pompeo was until recently a Republican congressman from Kansas partial to defending CIA officials who engaged in torture, calling them “patriots.”
.. Pompeo tapped as his deputy director at the agency CIA staffer Gina Haspel, who ran a secret prison in Thailand as part of a network of “black sites” that enabled the agency to torture detainees.
Senior Adviser Jared Kushner
.. Trump recently put an end to the longstanding U.S. insistence on a two-state solution, reportedly keeping his own State Department in the dark on the decision until it was made. It was Kushner’s counsel — not that of senior U.S. diplomats or military staff — that was guiding him.
.. While U.S. policy has held for decades that settlements built deep into Palestinian territories are illegal, Kushner’s family has helped finance them. And he fired a staffer at the New York Observer, which he owned at the time, after the staffer began to write critically about the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.