Trump’s Palestine Quandary

RAMALLAH – This week’s meeting between US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu – the first between the two leaders since Trump took office – was supposed to focus on their shared desire to reverse the Iran nuclear deal. But the Israeli Knesset’s retroactive legalization of settlements and outposts constructed in the occupied West Bank will probably require a reshuffling of priorities. Trump and Netanyahu are going to have to talk Palestine.

Trump has been vocally pro-Israel. In December, he blasted then-President Barack Obama’s decision to abstain from a vote on a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s illegal settlement construction, instead of vetoing the measure.

But Trump’s administration hoped to delay staking out a clear stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict – and, in particular, Israel’s expanding settlements in the occupied territories – until after the president’s first meeting with Netanyahu. Israel made that impossible when, just days after Trump’s inauguration, it announced its plans to build new settlements, forcing the new president to concede that Israel’s plans “don’t help” the peace process.

That mild statement, however, did not trouble the Israeli legislature, which soon took matters a step further, by legalizing the government’s expropriation of privately owned Palestinian land to build thousands of homes for Israelis in the West Bank. Though Israel’s Supreme Court may overturn the decision, the move is widely viewed as a deathblow to the two-state solution.