The day of the U.S. election, Jewish Home Chair Naftali Bennett said that President Trump’s win represented the “end of the era of a Palestinian state.”
But now with Trump about to land in Israel for his first diplomatic visit, Bennett is sounding decidedly less confident of that outcome amid reports that Trump wants to revive the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians.
“I expected that this is what would happen if we were passive,” Bennett told Israeli journalist Ben Caspit in an interview in Al Monitor. “We should have acted as soon as Trump took office and maybe even earlier. There was a vacuum, and we should have filled it, but we hesitated and got the same old template instead.”
Bennett believes that Israel should annex large chunks of the West Bank to prevent a Palestinian state from taking root there. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slowed any potential post-election annexation push when he urged caution in dealing with the new administration.
Now Bennett is saying “I told you so” to Israeli leadership. And another Jewish Home politician, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, is throwing cold water on future Trump peace talks by warning of dire consequences for Israelis.
“We need also to remember that every time that there was a peace process and it failed, after that there was a terror wave,” she said at an appearance this week at the Hudson Institute, a conservative Washington DC think tank.
In the beginning, right wingers had good reason to believe that Trump would break with decades of U.S. foreign policy promoting a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians. During the election, he had promised to allow Israel to make its own decisions rather than be pressured into agreements by the United States.
Trump also seemed to show sympathy with the settler viewpoint by appointing a David Friedman, a settlement supporter, as Israel envoy, and promising to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem in a symbolic act to affirm the city as Israel’s capital and not the Palestinian’s.
Today, Trump has yet to move the embassy, Friedman was approved as Israel ambassador but still hasn’t arrived and Trump had a cozy exchange at the White House with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last week during which Abbas expressed his peoples’ aspirations for an independent state.
Though no one knows what a Trump peace plan would look like, the very fact that he is interested in restarting negotiations with the Palestinians has Israel’s ultra-right worried, a startling shift from their buoyant mood just a few months ago.
“Obviously everyone there is pretty disappointed,” said Yedidia Stern, a religion and state expert at the Israel Democracy Institute, speaking of Bennett’s camp, the nationalist right. “There is a huge gap between the hopes of right-wingers in Israel and what seems to be the reality.”
Bobby Brown, a former Netanyahu adviser and a settler in Tekoa said that Israeli had learned the difference between Trump the campaigner and President Trump in the past few months.
“Number one is he is much more practical than he appears, number two is that he is ready to turn on issue and take a different stance than he took in the past,” said Brown. “He is basically trying to be practical and practical on Israel and the Palestinians as defined by presidential policy and state department policy has been two states.”
When Trump arrives in Israel, likely on May 22, right wingers won’t see him as the “messiah” that they perceived him to be during the election, in Stern’s phrasing, but that doesn’t mean they’ll turn a cold shoulder to Trump. Possible peace overtures or no, he’s still a welcome change from Obama, a deeply unpopular figure among the Israeli right for his pressure to end settlement building.
“There was so much distrust and so much dislike of the Obama administration that there is still hope that Trump will take an independent stand,” said Brown.
Naomi Zeveloff is the Middle East correspondent of the Forward, primarily covering Israel and the Palestinian Territories.