For most millennials, the Israel Palestine conflict has been constantly in the background of our lives. Since Israel’s declaration of nationhood in 1948, there have been continuous disputes, resolutions and relapses to hostility in the region. The failure to reach a peace agreement, however, is not for lack of trying. Since the presidency of Jimmy Carter, the world has looked on as every US Administration has struggled to intervene and help settle the on-going conflict. Every one of them so far, it seems, has failed.
‘The new president may take Us-Israeli relations a step further than his predecessor.’
What chance, then, does America’s new President have? While President Trump can be labelled many things, ordinary is not one of them and he certainly isn’t one to follow the pattern of his predecessors. Does this mean that we may finally see, if not a resolution, some progress in Israeli Palestinian peace talks? Considering his rhetoric, Trump would certainly like us to think so. So what does his presidency mean for peace in the Middle East?
First, Trump is firmly committed to upholding the tradition of amiable US-Israel relations. In his election campaign he promised to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, an often contested area in the history of the conflict. Doing so would confirm American recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, which would likely anger many Palestinians. This move suggested the new President may take US-Israeli relations a step further than his predecessor.
Even before Obama officially left office, Trump was vocally critical of his decision not to veto the UN’s condemnation of Israeli settlements. Utilising his notorious social media presence, the soon-to-be President released a statement saying this resolution “puts Israel in a very poor negotiating position and is extremely unfair to all Israelis.” This was the first sign of a departure from the policies of the previous administration. Fast forward a few months to Trump’s first press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, which took place on February 15, and we see another radical change in American policy on the conflict. Previously there had been a constant commitment to a two-state solution, and this had formed the basis of peace negotiations. The proposed solution would create a separate Palestinian and Israeli state, with the two countries co-existing side by side (as opposed to the one-state solution that, as its name suggests, would create one nation consisting of both Israelis and Palestinians). One of the main problems within the conflict has been agreeing what the borders for these two states would be.
When asked for his thoughts on this, Trump told the press “I’m looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like.” With that ambiguous statement Trump seemed to disregard the basis of a decade of peace talks by not precluding the possibility of a one-state solution. Trump is not known for his subtly or for skirting around difficult issues, so, perhaps his hardline approach will force negotiations to begin. On the other hand, many critics have denounced his vague and sweeping statements as another demonstration of his blatant ignorance of the entire conflict. Although, his questionable ability and seeming ignorance might mean the Israel and Palestinian authorities bypass him altogether and enter into direct negotiations. Either way, this could finally result in some progress in Israeli Palestinian peace deals.
This issue is certainly something that affects us in Exeter. The last few weeks have seen the forced cancellation of a Friends of Palestine demonstration, a resulting anti-censorship march, anti-Semitic signs on campus, and an anti-fascist march. In an increasingly globalised and international world, the issues in the Middle East are not as far removed from our lives as they may seem. University Campuses are often the frontline for demonstrations about contentious issues, and Exeter is no exception. The resolution of these issues is something affecting us all and something we should certainly be paying attention to.