GlobalSmackDown: U.S. foreign policy in Israel and Palestine



Eric Bellomo

       One of the most politically charged, volatile and historically tangled regions in the world continued to foment with the recent announcement of Israel’s move to greenlight the construction of 2500 homes in the West Bank. Palestine immediately claimed the construction undermined the potential for a peaceful, diplomatic resolution in the future. 

       The announcement coincided with the leadership transition currently underway in the White House. President Trump has indicated that he will be more receptive to such movements compared to his predecessor. President Obama’s relationship with Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, became increasingly tense during his tenure, which is why the timing of this move appears to be less than coincidental; Netanyahu might be interested in seeing how Trump’s actions might compare to his rhetoric on the campaign. 

       So far, President Trump’s actions have been noteworthy. First, he appointed David Friedman, a campaign adviser and former bankruptcy lawyer, as ambassador to Israel. Friedman has been outspoken in his lack of confidence in the viability of a lasting two state solution. Second, Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s advisor, made a splash when she commented on his intention to move the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This statement represents a departure from the reigning U.S. foreign policy thought of the last five decades. 

       Despite the maintenance of this status quo, there have been similar movements under leadership from both Democrats and Republicans. In 1995, when Congress was under Republican control, legislation was passed requiring the U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem, though this has consistently been waived. Former presidents Clinton and H.W. Bush made similar comments regarding their intention to move the embassy but never fulfilled their respective commitments. 

       The region has also been in the news recently because the Obama administration abstained from voting on a UN Security Council resolution requiring Israel to halt settlement activities. Though the vote passed unanimously, 14-0, the resolution was not unprecedented.  Similar resolutions have been voted on, notably in 2011 in which the U.S. similarly abstained. Observers state that the move is symbolic but follows the UN’s increasingly tough stance on Israel. 

       Despite the current state of occupation, international laws states that the settlements are illegal, though this position is disputed by Israel. President Trump has also considered signing an executive order that would cut funding to UN organizations that accept the Palestine Authority or the Palestine Liberation Authority as a full member. Similar moves were also made in 1990 and 1994. Palestine is currently a “non-member state” at the UN. 

       Palestinians assert that East Jerusalem should be the capital of any future state. Israeli settlers assert that they are returning to the biblical lands of Judea and Samaria which collectively account for most of the West Bank region. But there is also a political undercurrent that seeks to halt the expansion of the Palestinian state. 

       Though the discontent stretches back to the biblical era, the region has been hotly contested since 1948 when the UN and England split the land into two states. One state, Israel, was for Jews. The other, Palestine, for Arabs. Palestine rejected this as a sign of imperial encroachment, declared war, and was promptly defeated. 

       In 1967, during the Six Day War, Israel secured a large area of land, including, notably, the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula and the West Bank. In the process of determining what to do with this territory settlers began to move in. With the support of the Israeli state, these settlements transitioned from tents in the desert into well-organized, established communities. Presently, the settler population has creeped up around 500,000 in 140 settlements. In the 1990s the Oslo Accords came to the fore and established a Palestinian government, which gave Palestinians self-rule for the first time, and split the West Bank into thirds. The region will likely continue to be a prominent topic in foreign policy debates and shows no signs of an immediate resolution. 

       *Global Smackdown is a 23-minute multimedia forum facilitated by Dr. Tim Horner every Thursday at 2 p.m. in Corr 103.