Israel needs to calibrate its expectations and demands of the incoming Trump administration to focus on concrete and achievable goals. It should do so by insisting on this country’s core interests – interests that have terribly damaged by the Obama administration.
It must do so without making demands of Washington that can’t be met, and that would throw into crisis Israel’s relations with the rest of the world. And it must do so without blowing out of the water the prospects for a condominium arrangement with reasonable Palestinians in the (alas) distant future.
This can be done.
Most centrally, this means reaching understandings with Washington on reinforcement of Israeli control in the greater Jerusalem envelope area through significant renewal of home construction.
This includes all Jerusalem neighborhoods (beginning with Givat Hamatos, Gilo and Ramat Shlomo) and the blocs strategically flanking Jerusalem, specifically Gush Etzion in the south, Beit El/Ofra in the north, and Ma’aleh Adumim in the east – and especially in the E-1 corridor between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim.
Israel should be building 50,000 apartments in this strategic sector over the next decade, to shore up its religious, historical, and national security stake in the very center of the Land of Israel.
As David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Rabin well understood, and Benjamin Netanyahu does, too, “Greater Jerusalem” is the key to the Jewish people’s claim on its historic homeland. United Jerusalem is the DNA that holds the key to the future of Israel.
Strategically, “Jerusalem” is a zone of settlement that runs from Tel Aviv to the Jordan Valley. From Jaffa to Jericho.
I’m not saying that Israel should give up its stake in Amona, or Kedumim, Shvut Rachel, Elon Moreh, Shiloh, Hebron, Otniel, Talmon, the Ariel bloc, or anywhere else in the biblical heartland. I’m not saying that Israel should freeze (actually, continue to freeze) settlement in these places. Not at all.
It’s just that, at best, Israel might be able to cautiously continue to settle these places, when tactically possible, without international agreement. The Jewish people’s legitimate right to live in these places, and the political wisdom of such, will remain a matter of dispute with the international community and the Palestinians for a long time to come.
It is unrealistic to expect the Trump administration to openly endorse unfettered settlement across Judea and Samaria or to recognize Israeli sovereignty in the territories. Netanyahu isn’t going to get from Trump a formal rejection of the twostate construct. Nor should such policy be Israel’s goal.
I also don’t think that Israel should prioritize an “ask” that the US Embassy move to Jerusalem – even though Trump promised to do that and such a move would be an important diplomatic signal.
What is rational, reasonable and of precedence, is this: an explicit return to the “Bush letter” understandings of 2004 for effective and permanent Israeli control of the so-called settlement “blocs,” an upgrade on these understandings to include E-1, and an end to Obama’s obsession with blocking the growth of Jewish Jerusalem.
Moving the US in this direction is necessary and urgent. This would be a razorsharp diplomatic signal that the old “international parameters” for an Israeli-Palestinian accord are passé. That the 1949/1967 lines are obsolete. That maximalist Palestinian demands aren’t sacrosanct. That Israelis are not interlopers in Judea. That effective Israeli control of greater Jerusalem is a fact of life forever.
And this can be achieved by green-lighting a long-overdue massive wave of construction in greater Jerusalem.
Indeed, President-elect Trump may be forced into such critical signaling even before taking office, if President Obama tries to “re-sanctify” the stale “international parameters” for a two-state solution, through a unilateral policy speech or a UN Security Council vote.
In that case, I hope that Trump will speak out and make it clear that he rejects the attempt to dictate the contours of an Israeli-Palestinian future, and that the contours which Obama might enunciate – the so-called “international consensus parameters” that “everybody knows” are the endgame – are neither fair to Israel nor practical.
At that time, it will be necessary for Trump to show understanding of the following realities: First, that the only Palestinian government that Israelis can live with in Judea, Samaria and Gaza is one that truly poses no threat to Israel’s security. This means that it must be truly demilitarized (unlike the situation today), that it cannot form hostile foreign alliances (such as Hamas’s alliance with Iran), and that it must accept permanent Israeli control of all external borders – to prevent the emergence of another radical Islamic bastion on Israel’s eastern flank.
Indeed, this is less than the phantasm of “full Palestinian statehood” that has been bandied about.
The Palestinian government that Israelis can accommodate in Judea, Samaria and Gaza must be also a reasonable neighbor and willing to compromise. This means that it will not control or be able to divide and destroy Jerusalem, and it must share its airspace, natural resources, and historical and religious sites with Israel – including the Temple Mount.
And of course, the only Palestinian government that Israelis can brook over the long term in the West Bank and Gaza has to agree to a permanent end to the conflict and all claims on Israel – meaning that it renounces the so-called “right of return,” inculcates reconciliation and not antisemitism on its airwaves and in its schools, recognizes Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, and ceases to criminalize Israeli leaders in international forums.
If the Trump administration acknowledges these verities instead of signing on to depleted dictums, and it shows understanding of Israel’s need to build again in Jerusalem, the cause of realistic peace will be advanced momentously.