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Richard Silverstein

Trump will strive to undo 70-year Middle East policy

Former NYC Mayor Giuliani and Donald Trump meet at Trump International Golf Club [Getty]

Date of publication: 23 November, 2016

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Comment: Anti-Semites like Trump's chief strategist Steve Bannon, and Islamophobes like Frank Gaffney will eventually cause the Trump administration to implode, writes Richard Silverstein

Alarming news reports about Trump appointments in key slots in the national security and foreign policy spheres raise the specter of undoing nearly 70 years of carefully-constructed consensus in US policy toward the Middle East. 

Presidents harkening back to Lyndon Johnson have opposed Israeli settlements, and since George Bush they've supported a two-state solution. More recently, President Obama has refused to permit the US to intervene in conflicts such as the one Syria. He, and President Bush also rejected an Israeli offer to jointly attack Iran. 

Despite Trump's avowed inclination to stay out of overseas conflicts, it's quite possible his key advisors and allies in the region like Binyamin Netanyahu could inveigle him into such military adventurism.

US media has reported turmoil within President-elect Trump's transition team. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who endorsed Trump early and worked tirelessly on his behalf, is out. According to one story, Christie prosecuted Charles Kushner and sent him to prison.

Kushner is the father of Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Now Kushner fils, who played an instrumental role in the presidential transition, wants revenge. So Christie and all those he brought into the transition team are out. That includes former Congressman Mike Rogers, who was the national security expert for the old team.

In his place, the Wall Street Journal reports that Frank Gaffney has been tapped. He is the founder of the Center for Security Policy, perhaps the most Islamophobic think tank in Washington. An NGO which monitors US hate groups, the Southern Poverty Law Center, calls it "…a conspiracy-oriented mouthpiece for the growing anti-Muslim movement in the United States."

Giuliani brings no particular foreign policy or diplomatic expertise to this potential assignment

In terms of conspiracy-mongering, it more than keeps pace with Breitbart News, whose chief, Steve Bannon, has now become Trump's special political advisor. Gaffney has accused the Arab-American wives of Republican stalwart Grover Norquist and ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner, of being shadow members of the Muslim Brotherhood. He's used these charges to impugn both men, and tar them as fellow travelers with Arab terrorists.

Though Gaffney once had a low-level job in the Reagan Pentagon, and continues receiving funding for his group from major defense contractors, it's not clear what particular national security expertise he has. Unless you want to base the entire US national security policy on suspecting Muslims of seeking the overthrow of the Republic. Indeed, Vox published a piece based on precisely this premise:

With the Trump administration working to finalise its choices for who will run the Pentagon and State Department, it's becoming clear that getting top national security posts in the new White House requires two qualifications: intense personal loyalty to Donald Trump himself, and an almost obsessive fixation on the potential threats posed by radical Islamic terrorism.

The incoming national security advisor, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn's policies are reminiscent of the Dr. Strangelove character, Dr Jack D. Ripper, who ranted that the Russians were intent on depriving us of "our precious bodily fluids". In a book he wrote, Flynn warned that Islamic State is "dead set on taking us over and drinking our blood".

Another Gaffney protege, former CIA agent Clare Lopez, is in line to become deputy national security advisor. In a 2013 speech, she claimed Islam was not a "bona fide" religion:

Perhaps these would be precisely the qualities Trump is seeking: a chief diplomat who hates diplomacy and international institutions

"When people in other bona fide religions follow their doctrines they become better people - Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Jews. When Muslims follow their doctrine, they become jihadists."

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is reported to be the top choice for Secretary of State. Again, Giuliani brings no particular foreign policy or diplomatic expertise to this potential assignment.

He was known as mayor for his bellicosity, his thin skin and his antagonism toward the United Nations and Arab leaders in particular. Though perhaps these would be precisely the qualities Trump is seeking: a chief diplomat who hates diplomacy and international institutions.

Another early Trump supporter who has opined on Middle East issues is Walid Phares, a controversial figure for his former links to the Phalange movement in Lebanon during 1970s. Yet now, he's cleaned up his resume and assumed the mantle of a Middle East policy analyst. 

Phares was also a national security advisor to Ted Cruz's campaign. With Cruz now being considered for attorney general, Phares' stock is on the rise as well. Believe it or not, the latter comes across as fairly moderate considering some of the other pro-Israel firebrands purporting to represent Trump's views.

Phares says that the US embassy would only be moved to Jerusalem as part of a final status agreement and a "consensus" among the parties. He also says that Trump remains committed to a two-state solution, though others speaking on his behalf reject this explicitly.

Adelson will be whispering in his ear. The Israel Lobby will be whispering in his ear.

Israel's most radical government ministers, like Naftali Bennett, are celebrating a Trump victory and announcing the death of the two-state solution. Bennett supports annexing large portions of the West Bank to Israel. He has not made clear what he would do with the millions of Palestinians living there.

Though it seems clear that he would deny them full citizenship and voting rights. If he permitted this, Israel would relatively quickly become a majority Palestinian state. This would be an impermissible outcome for a Jewish ultra-nationalist like him.

The only possible solution for Israel's far-right government would be annexation with Palestinians offered a form of limited citizenship (if at all). We should call this what it is: apartheid.

Notably, very few Israeli leaders supporting West Bank annexation have publicly expressed their view on what would happen to the Palestinians. For good reason. They know the world would be in an uproar.

Except for President Trump. He is set to be the first US president who might approve of such a development. Don't forget who his largest campaign donor was: Sheldon Adelson ($11.2 million in direct funding and at least $25-million in Super PAC money). Adelson will be whispering in his ear. The Israel Lobby will be whispering in his ear.

So it is far past the time to pronounce the demise of the two-state solution. The coming battlefield will be the issue of annexation

And Bibi Netanyahu, who only kept quiet about his choice in the presidential election because he feared Trump would lose, will be shouting in his ear. None of them supports a two-state solution.

So it is far past the time to pronounce the demise of the two-state solution. The coming battlefield will be the issue of annexation. Israel is likely to try to annex the West Bank, perhaps in the next four years. What should the international community's posture be?

Even if the Israeli government doesn't annex due to the unpopularity of the decision, it will send new settlers streaming into the Occupied Territories. There are now approximately 600,000 Israeli Jews living in the West Bank and occupied Jerusalem. With an Israeli government newly empowered to flood Palestine with new settlements, there could be as many as 1 million there by the end of the Trump's term.

By then, it would be impossible to separate Israel from Palestine. This further guarantees that there must be a unitary state. Whether one likes it or not, only one-state remains as a viable option.

Unlike many commentators on the Trump presidency, while I may oppose his most extremist appointments, in the longer-term they are good for his progressive opponents.

Anti-Semites like Steve Bannon and Islamophobes like Frank Gaffney will eventually cause the Trump administration to implode. The worse his appointments, the more quickly Americans will wise up to the sucker deal they've made with Donald Trump.

There is one unfortunate outcome from all this: many people will die as a result of the policies Donald Trump puts in place over the coming four years. Some will be American, but many more will be Muslim and some will be Israeli. I only hope that Trump implodes soon enough to staunch the massive bleeding.

Richard Silverstein writes the Tikun Olam blog and is a freelance journalist specialising in exposing secrets of the Israeli national security state. He campaigns against opacity and the negative impact of Israeli military censorship.

Follow him on Twitter: @richards1052


Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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