The Or­ange Mes­siah

Will Don­ald Trump be good for Is­rael? Or is he just an­other meshuggene­r cre­at­ing ob­sta­cles to peace in the Mid­dle East?

- by Nina Burleigh

Will Don­ald Trump be good for Is­rael? Or is he just an­other meshuggene­r cre­at­ing ob­sta­cles to peace in the Mid­dle East?

FOR TWO DAYS and two nights in De­cem­ber, the Is­raelis and their Amer­i­can friends in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., con­vened among the car­ol­ers and Christ­mas trees at a lux­ury ho­tel near the White House. It was sup­posed to be Haim Sa­ban’s po­lit­i­cal bar mitz­vah, the ul­ti­mate cel­e­bra­tion of his pres­i­dent-mak­ing pow­ers. In 2016, the bil­lion­aire emerged as the most in­flu­en­tial Is­rael donor to Hil­lary Clin­ton, and most of the Is­raeli-amer­i­can pol­icy world turned out for his 13th an­nual Sa­ban Fo­rum: think tank pol­icy wonks, rib­bon-decked re­tired gen­er­als and diplo­mats who had sweated over the in­tractable peace process. Knes­set mem­bers on the right and left flew in from Tel Aviv, along with Is­raeli De­fense Min­is­ter Avig­dor Lieber­man, a hard-liner some­times de­scribed as a po­ten­tial chal­lenger to Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin “Bibi” Ne­tanyahu, who beamed in by satel­lite.

But in­stead of toast­ing Sa­ban’s can­di­date or get­ting their pic­tures taken with the pres­i­dent-elect, the par­tic­i­pants could only guess at what Don­ald Trump—who wasn’t in­vited—might do in the Holy Land.

The Queens, New York-born real es­tate mogul will be in­au­gu­rated at what is now a piv­otal mo­ment in Is­rael, when the Amer­i­can-backed idea of a two-state solution—that is, di­vid­ing land be­tween the Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans—is closer to be­ing cast into Ge­henna, the bi­b­li­cal word for hell, than ever be­fore. As Lieber­man put it: “There is no peace! There is no process!”

No one in the room pre­tended to know what lies ahead, but one con­cern vexed them all: Will Trump be bad for Is­rael? Or, as some Is­raelis hope, will he be the coun­try’s Santa Claus?

A Mas­sive Lump of Coal

THE FIRST THING to un­der­stand about what Trump’s get­ting into is that Is­rael al­ready had a Santa Claus: Pres­i­dent Barack Obama. But he didn’t get a lot of milk and cook­ies in Jerusalem. De­spite fork­ing over con­sid­er­able amounts of Amer­i­can de­fense money, he and Ne­tanyahu have had a fa­mously frosty re­la­tion­ship.

Their prob­lems be­gan in June 2009, barely five months into his pres­i­dency, when Obama gave what was billed as a his­toric speech to the Arab world in Cairo, be­com­ing one of the few U.S. pres­i­dents to pub­licly tell Is­rael to stop build­ing settlement­s on what Amer­ica—and most of the world—views as Pales­tinian land. Ne­tanyahu re­sponded with a mas­sive lump of coal: He green-lit new settlement­s. To em­pha­size the point, Is­rael’s Min­istry of the In­te­rior timed the an­nounce­ment of 1,600 new hous­ing units on oc­cu­pied land to co­in­cide with a visit by Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cially backed a

two-state solution, but the process quickly stalled. A later ef­fort spear­headed by Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry also failed. Polls show that Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans sup­port a two-state solution; Is­raeli hard-lin­ers would rather there be no Pales­tinian home­land at all, but if pressed, they might ac­cept one in which Pales­tini­ans are crammed into Gaza. Oth­ers dream of Pales­tini­ans be­ing ab­sorbed into one of the Arab coun­tries.

Obama’s anti-set­tle­ment stance wasn’t that dif­fer­ent from the one taken by prior ad­min­is­tra­tions, but his vo­cal and early op­po­si­tion earned him the hard-lin­ers’ last­ing en­mity. That dis­trust was ex­ac­er­bated when the two sides fell out over the Iran nu­clear deal, a mul­ti­lat­eral treaty that slowed but did not end Iran’s nu­clear am­bi­tions. In 2014, Ne­tanyahu—in­vited by Repub­li­cans—made a widely crit­i­cized and un­prece­dented ad­dress to the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives to try to per­suade law­mak­ers not to pass the treaty. He failed, but the move showed how much con­tempt he had for Obama.

The feel­ing seemed to be mu­tual—es­pe­cially af­ter the Is­raelis pre­ma­turely, and with­out prior dis­cus­sion, un­leashed Stuxnet, a su­per-se­cret cy­ber­weapon de­vel­oped with Amer­ica’s Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency, on Iran in 2010, ac­cord­ing to NSA whistle­blow­ers in Alex Gib­ney’s doc­u­men­tary Zero Days. Yet Obama has lav­ished hefty amounts of de­fense money on Is­rael. In Septem­ber, the pres­i­dent signed a whop­ping 10-year, $38 bil­lion deal to fill Is­rael’s de­fense cof­fers through 2028. The pack­age


means the U.S. will dole out $3.8 bil­lion an­nu­ally. Even Ne­tanyahu had to ac­knowl­edge Amer­ica’s largesse. “This doesn’t mean we don’t have dis­agree­ments from time to time,” he said in a state­ment, “but those dis­agree­ments are within the fam­ily.”

A fam­ily, it seems, that only pre­tends to get along dur­ing the hol­i­days. The Im­pos­si­ble Deal

IT’S HARD to imag­ine what more the Is­raelis might want from the United States. But many in Is­rael, and some Amer­i­can Jews, be­lieve Obama was ter­ri­ble for the coun­try. For­get the de­fense spigot and pro­duc­tive col­lab­o­ra­tions on things like cy­ber­weapons. Is­rael’s hard-lin­ers want the U.S. to sup­port le­gal­iz­ing the settlement­s, which the United Na­tions has of­fi­cially con­sid­ered il­le­gal since 1971.

Trump’s Is­rael ad­vis­ers seem to agree. On the cam­paign trail in 2016, the New York bil­lion­aire—like most Repub­li­can can­di­dates—fre­quently promised to tear up the Iran deal and move the U.S. Em­bassy to di­vided Jerusalem (in pre­vi­ous years, Democrats have made sim­i­lar prom­ises). In March, speak­ing at the an­nual con- ven­tion of the Amer­i­can Is­rael Pub­lic Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, the pow­er­ful pro-is­rael lobby known as AIPAC, Trump ac­cused the United Na­tions of try­ing to “im­pose” an agree­ment on Is­rael and the Pales­tini­ans.

But that doesn’t mean Trump isn’t in­ter­ested in a deal. Be­fore and af­ter his elec­tion, he oc­ca­sion­ally mused about forg­ing the elu­sive Pales­tinian-is­raeli peace ac­cord. “A lot of peo­ple tell me, re­ally great peo­ple tell me, that it’s im­pos­si­ble, you can’t do it,” he told re­porters and ed­i­tors at The New York Times. “I dis­agree. I think you can make peace.”

How he might pull it off is as un­clear as his per­sonal feel­ings about Is­rael and Jews in gen­eral. Trump has been known to make bor­der­line anti-semitic com­ments about,

for ex­am­ple, the sharp­ness of his lawyers. The ex­tent of his knowl­edge about Ju­daism seems to be that daugh­ter Ivanka con­verted to marry Jared Kush­ner (an­other New York-area real es­tate scion and one of Trump’s top ad­vis­ers) and that his three grand­chil­dren are Jewish. He has been known to men­tion this when peo­ple make a fuss about his neo-nazi sup­port­ers.

The Trump cam­paign was also schiz­o­phrenic on Jews. Ad­viser Stephen Ban­non will likely be the last guy in the room with the pres­i­dent-elect most days. And he’s the guy who made Bre­it­bart News a home for both ex­treme pro-is­rael writ­ers and anti-semites. The Trump cam­paign did the same, with Is­rael “ad­vis­ers” whose pro-set­tle­ment po­si­tions put them to the right of most Is­raelis while still wink­ing at Pepe the Frog and play­ing ig­no­rant about anti-semitic memes shared by Trump and his team.

But not ev­ery­one is ig­nor­ing the dog whis­tles. His­tor­i­cally, Amer­i­can Jews vote Demo­cratic, and Trump won less than 25 per­cent of the Jewish vote. Susie Gel­man, chair­man of the lib­eral, pro-is­rael and in­flu­en­tial Is­rael Pol­icy Fo­rum, is par­tic­u­larly con­cerned. “If his ap­point­ment of Stephen Ban­non—some­one who led an ex­trem­ist pub­li­ca­tion that has pro­moted ex­pres­sions of hate to­ward all sorts of mi­nor­ity groups—as his chief po­lit­i­cal strate­gist is any in­di­ca­tion, Amer­i­can Jews have much cause for con­cern be­yond only try­ing to di­vine Pres­i­dent-elect Trump’s ap­proach to Is­rael.”

Trump’s Is­rael ad­vis­ers hold po­si­tions far to the right of hard-liner Ne­tanyahu. One is David Fried­man, an Ortho­dox Jewish bank­ruptcy lawyer and Trump’s nom­i­nee for am­bas­sador to Is­rael. Fried­man sits on the board of an il­le­gal Is­raeli set­tle­ment called Beit El, one of 230 in the West Bank that the State Depart­ment clas­si­fies as an im­ped­i­ment to peace. (Kush­ner’s fam­ily foun­da­tion has do­nated money to it.) The pres­i­dent-elect’s other Is­rael ad­viser, Ja­son Dov Green­blatt, is a long­time Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion lawyer who has writ­ten a travel book about Is­rael. Nei­ther man has any for­eign pol­icy ex­pe­ri­ence. Just be­fore the elec­tion, both Fried­man and Green­blatt re­leased a memo out­lin­ing the Don­ald’s po­si­tions. A Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, they stated, would not au­to­mat­i­cally sup­port the cre­ation of a Pales­tinian state—some­thing at odds with decades of Amer­i­can pol­icy—and they called the United Na­tions Chil­dren’s Fund anti-semitic.

Af­ter the elec­tion, Fried­man as­sured Is­raelis that Trump will im­prove the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two coun­tries. “The level of friend­ship be­tween the U.S. and Is­rael is go­ing to grow like never be­fore,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “And it will be bet­ter than ever, even the way it was un­der Repub­li­can ad­min­is­tra­tions in the past.”


Speak­ing at the Sa­ban Fo­rum in De­cem­ber, Fried­man went fur­ther, stun­ning lib­eral Amer­i­can Jews by say­ing the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion would freeze out J Street, the left-lean­ing, pro-is­rael lobby group based in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., which has been in­flu­en­tial in re­cent years. In pre­vi­ous in­ter­views, Fried­man called the or­ga­ni­za­tion “far worse than ka­pos,” a highly in­sult­ing word for Jews who col­lab­o­rated with the Nazis dur­ing World War II.

Trump son-in-law Kush­ner, 35, is one of his top ad­vis­ers; he is more ret­i­cent than Fried­man but is equally green at di­plo­macy. The pres­i­dent-elect has sug­gested he might make him a Mid­dle East peace en­voy. Lieber­man, the Is­raeli de­fense min­is­ter, called the wispy Kush­ner “a smart, tough guy,” a term he’s usu­ally re­served for the likes of Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin. Pri­vately, main­line pro-is­rael pol­icy an­a­lysts and ad­vis­ers in Wash­ing­ton and New York roll their eyes when some­one men­tions Kush­ner’s name—and not just be­cause his par­ents’ fam­ily foun­da­tion has do­nated money to the Beit El set­tle­ment. He “is a com­plete blank,” says one Is­rael pol­icy ex­pert. “Trump says, ‘Well, I got a Jewish son-in-law.’ I’ve never seen him as a pres­ence any­where on the sub­ject.”

Exxon Mo­bil CEO Rex Tiller­son, Trump’s nom­i­nee for sec­re­tary of state, has close ties with Putin and the oil-pro­duc­ing Per­sian Gulf states but no record on Is­rael. And it’s un­clear whether the busi­ness­man will del­e­gate the busi­ness of Mid­dle East peace to the usual hands, the for­eign pol­icy wonks in Wash­ing­ton and New York whose ideas, they all ad­mit, haven’t ex­actly worked so far.

Half Jewish, Half Pales­tinian

THE DAY AF­TER the elec­tion, Trump called Ne­tanyahu, and the two had a “warm con­ver­sa­tion” in which the pres­i­dent-elect in­vited the Is­raeli leader to the White House as soon as his sched­ule per­mits. A week later, Ron Der­mer, Is­rael’s am­bas­sador to the U.S., vis­ited Trump at his home in Man­hat­tan. On his way out, he as­sured re­porters that Is­rael looks for­ward to work­ing with the new ad­min­is­tra­tion, “in­clud­ing Steve Ban­non,” he added point­edly.

On cam­era, all good. But off­stage, Trump’s elec­tion poses some coun­ter­in­tu­itive prob­lems for Is­rael. For the past eight years, Ne­tanyahu has used Obama’s dis­ap­proval to keep his right flank from ag­i­tat­ing for ex­treme mea­sures. Among them: an­nex­ing parts of the West Bank, where 650,000 Is­raelis now live on a patch­work of le­gal and il­le­gal settlement­s that cost an es­ti­mated $30 bil­lion to build, and many of which are con­nected to each other by set­tlers-only high­ways. The far-right

Jewish Home party makes Ne­tanyahu look pos­i­tively lib­eral: While the num­ber of set­tlers un­der the prime min­is­ter grew by about 50,000, right­ists dream of adding an ad­di­tional 350,000 to the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­tory. This would bring the to­tal num­ber of Is­raelis in the West Bank to a mil­lion, mak­ing an ag­o­niz­ing, Gaza-like pull­out nearly im­pos­si­ble to imag­ine.

In a per­haps pre­ma­ture dis­play of Trumpian en­thu­si­asm, Is­rael’s Knes­set con­sid­ered in De­cem­ber a bill to retroac­tively le­gal­ize many of the settlement­s. It still has sev­eral hur­dles be­fore it be­comes law, but the move was a clear sign of how Trump has embold­ened the coun­try’s right, ac­cord­ing to Is­raeli op­po­si­tion pols. The Knes­set’s Yoav Kisch, a mem­ber of the Likud party who voted for the bill, says he thinks Trump “can change the whole thing” with a dif­fer­ent at­ti­tude on settlement­s. “We be­lieve settlement­s are not an ob­sta­cle for peace,” he says. “We heard Trump say that too.”

But if and when the new pres­i­den­tial ad­min­is­tra­tion buys into that dream, Ne­tanyahu will be faced with a ma­jor dilemma, says Knes­set mem­ber and op­po­si­tion leader Yitzhak Her­zog. Like many on the left, Her­zog is a sup­porter of the two-state solution, and to aban­don that idea is to aban­don Is­rael’s claim to be­ing both a Jewish state and the Mid­dle East’s only democ­racy. Of­fi­cially ab­sorb­ing the West Bank and its Pales­tini­ans into Is­rael could lead to ei­ther apartheid or a bi­na­tional state in which the Pales­tini­ans con­ceiv­ably be­come a ma­jor­ity.

Her­zog says, “I have said to Bibi, ‘Now you will have no more ex­cuses. You say we have a pres­i­dent who will give us ev­ery­thing you want? Well, that is also the mo­ment of truth for Is­rael. Do we have a two-state solution, or are we a na­tion that is half Pales­tinian and half Jewish?’ This is a real his­tor­i­cal de­ci­sion. This is a huge is­sue.”

Her­zog sees some op­por­tu­nity in the chaos of Trump’s tran­si­tion—if the pres­i­dent-elect aban­dons his iso­la­tion­ist ten­den­cies and Obama’s “lead­ing from be­hind” strat­egy. He even thinks Trump, work­ing with Russia and the so-called mini-quar­tet of Sunni Arab na­tions—egypt, Saudi Ara­bia, Jor­dan and the United Arab Emi­rates—could kick­start the mori­bund peace process.

“Lead­ing from be­hind is a good pol­icy, but some is­sues re­quire per­cep­tion,” Her­zog says. “I would say that if Trump can come to terms with Putin, they might be able to bring [Pales­tinian Author­ity Pres­i­dent Mah­moud] Ab­bas into the room and move the peace process. But it’s more com­pli­cated in an era where Amer­ica doesn’t want to be in­volved.”

The con­se­quences of do­ing noth­ing are dire, Her­zog says: “We ei­ther have a two-state solution or, I don’t know, World War III.”

Art of the Steal

TOBRINGANY Pales­tini­ans to the ta­ble, Trump has to talk to them, and so far his tran­si­tion team has not reached out to Ra­mal­lah, seat of the Pales­tinian Author­ity. King Ab­dul­lah II of Jor­dan, a re­gional player in the peace process, has spo­ken with both Trump and Vice Pres­i­dent-elect Mike Pence.

Trump en­ters the White House at yet an­other dire time for Pales­tini­ans, who re­main di­vided. They are po­lit­i­cally frac­tured and lack a strong, uni­fy­ing leader who might en­gage in mean­ing­ful ne­go­ti­a­tions. In late Novem­ber, 81-year-old Ab­bas was re-elected the Pales­tinian Author­ity’s leader, but rifts be­tween his Fatah party and Ha­mas (which con­trols Gaza and has been branded a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion by the U.S. and Is­rael) are of­ten vi­o­lent. Also, Ab­bas’s power in the West Bank has eroded to the point where he might not be able to serve as a ne­go­tia­tor.

In the U.S., Pales­tini­ans have no sin­gle-is­sue po­lit­i­cal megadonor like Sa­ban, but they do have rep­re­sen­ta­tives in D.C. Yousef Mu­nayyer, a writer and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the U.S. Cam­paign for Pales­tinian Rights, a pro-pales­tine coali­tion based in Wash­ing­ton, says Pales­tini­ans have aban­doned hope that any U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion will sup­port their cause.

But Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion looks par­tic­u­larly hos­tile to Pales­tini­ans for three rea­sons, Mu­nayyer says. His “Amer­ica First” po­si­tion presages a re­luc­tance to en­gage in any open-ended for­eign en­tan­gle­ments; Kush­ner’s fam­ily sup­ports il­le­gal settlement­s and Trump has stacked his Cabi­net with known “Is­lam­o­phobes.”

“Putting all of this to­gether sug­gests Don­ald Trump


will al­low the rad­i­cal Is­raeli right, which has a lock on power in Is­rael, to do ba­si­cally what­ever they please to the Pales­tini­ans,” Mu­nayyer says. “Ne­tanyahu is Is­rael’s Don­ald Trump and has been for years. He has suc­cess­fully cap­tured po­lit­i­cal of­fice through the use of fear: fear of Arabs, fear of Iran, fear of Obama, fear of peace. He be­lieves in build­ing walls, not bridges. He fear­mon­gers against out­siders and mi­nori­ties and has been speak­ing in catch­phrases and sound bites long be­fore Trump took to Twit­ter’s 140-char­ac­ter medium.”

Mu­nayyer adds that when Ne­tanyahu ad­vo­cates “two states for two peo­ples,” as he did on 60 Min­utes on De­cem­ber 11, he is speak­ing in a code that only sounds like the two-state solution. This “two states” con­cept al­lows for non­con­tigu­ous Pales­tinian can­tons and, in some hard-lin­ers’ dreams, Jor­dan tak­ing in mil­lions of Pales­tini­ans and leav­ing the West Bank for Is­rael, a move that would surely in­flame the Pales­tini­ans. Mu­nayyer points out that the Likud plat­form states that its mem­bers “flatly re­ject” a Pales­tinian state west of the Jor­dan River.

For­mer Pales­tine Lib­er­a­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion spokes­woman Diana Buttu, a lawyer with the In­sti­tute for Mid­dle East Un­der­stand­ing, a pro-pales­tinian or­ga­ni­za­tion based in Wash­ing­ton, is equally bleak. “I pre­dict that the new Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion will do noth­ing to stop Is­rael and will sim­ply ig­nore this is­sue,” she says. “For the hawks in Is­rael who be­lieve in per­pet­ual de­nial of free­dom and in steal­ing land, this pol­icy works to their ad­van­tage. But for those who seek free­dom, peace and a sta­ble Mid­dle East, this pol­icy will pro­long suf­fer­ing, the de­nial of free­dom and turn this place into an even more ex­plo­sive pow­der keg.”

The Truth About Iran

TRUMP’S CHAL­LENGE in craft­ing an Is­raeli-pales­tinian peace deal goes be­yond the West Bank, and it’s com­pli­cated by re­gional ri­val­ries that make the wider Mid­dle East even more com­bustible. Among the thorni­est is­sues is Is­rael’s op­po­si­tion to the Iran nu­clear deal, a mul­ti­lat­eral agree­ment that the United States has signed.

Is­rael is the Mid­dle East’s sole nu­clear power, and it would like to stay that way. On De­cem­ber 8, the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ar­chive, a non­profit, non­govern­men­tal watch­dog, re­leased newly dis­cov­ered doc­u­ments in­di­cat­ing that the United States be­lieved as early as 1979 that Is­rael was test­ing nu­clear weapons. It was not the first time some­one has pub­lished in­for­ma­tion on the na­tion’s of­fi­cially se­cret nukes pro­gram. Is­rael’s nukes are the un­spo­ken el­e­ment in any dis­cus­sion about the coun­try’s se­cu­rity, Mid­dle East peace and Iran.

Trump’s “rip up the Iran deal” cam­paign rhetoric en­cour­aged Ne­tanyahu and other hard-lin­ers who be­lieve the treaty is bad for Is­rael. But, in in­ter­views with Newsweek, Is­raeli and Amer­i­can diplo­mats and for­eign pol­icy ad­min­is­tra­tors con­ceded that Is­rael doesn’t want to “rip up” the deal. Of course, in his 60 Min­utes in­ter­view Ne­tanyahu said he had at least five ideas for how Trump could dis­man­tle the agree­ment. He didn’t elab­o­rate, but since Congress ap­proved the Iran ac­cord months ago, in­sid­ers say the Is­raeli lead­er­ship has qui­etly de­cided it might be best to leave it the way it is, at least for now, since hav­ing a “bad” deal is bet­ter than noth­ing.

Aaron David Miller, vice pres­i­dent for new ini­tia­tives at the Wil­son Cen­ter, who has ad­vised both Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic ad­min­is­tra­tions over the years, pre­dicts that Trump is un­likely to ab­ro­gate or rene­go­ti­ate the agree­ment. That is, un­less he wants a “death spi­ral” of re­tal­ia­tory mea­sures—the U.S. ex­tends sanc­tions and the Ira­ni­ans re­sume ura­nium en­rich­ment to re­tal­i­ate, for ex­am­ple. He says Trump’s only real op­tion in the next four years is or­der­ing a “re­view” as a stalling tac­tic, and maybe sup­port­ing con­gres­sional ef­forts to im­pose ad­di­tional sanc­tions.

In the mean­time, the Ira­ni­ans aren’t wait­ing to see if Trump acts on his rhetoric. They ap­par­ently greeted Trump’s elec­tion with an­other cy­ber­at­tack on en­ergy com­pany Saudi Aramco (us­ing tech­nol­ogy sim­i­lar to the Stuxnet com­puter worm, de­signed with Amer­i­can help, that Is­rael de­ployed in 2010). Vali Nasr, dean of the Johns Hop­kins School of Ad­vanced In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies and an ad­viser to Obama and Clin­ton on the Mid­dle East, says Tehran is wor­ried about Trump for


the same rea­sons that con­cern other world lead­ers: He is er­ratic, and they don’t know what he be­lieves in, be­yond him­self. Trump’s Cabi­net nom­i­nees for na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, de­fense sec­re­tary and head of the Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment—re­tired Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Mike Flynn, re­tired Gen­eral James Mat­tis and re­tired Gen­eral John Kelly, re­spec­tively—are ve­he­mently anti-iran.

Tehran’s theo­cratic gov­ern­ment is of­ten un­sta­ble, but Iran’s power in the re­gion has grown in the chaos that’s en­sued in the 13 years since the U.S. in­vaded Iraq. Ten­sions be­tween Iran and the Sunni Arab na­tions, in­clud­ing Saudi Ara­bia, are ex­plod­ing in proxy wars. And Tehran was a ma­jor player in the Syr­ian civil war, where its ally, Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar al-as­sad, re­cently re­took the city of Aleppo bru­tally. As sec­u­lar dic­ta­tors died or fled and the Is­lamic State mil­i­tant group (ISIS) rose, some of the Sunni Arab states and Is­rael have struck up a be­hind-closed-doors en­tente. Trump’s mil­i­tary and na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vis­ers speak of so­lu­tions—“bomb the hell out of ISIS” and “rip up” the Iran deal, for ex­am­ple—to a Mid­dle East that no longer ex­ists, Nasr says. He ex­pects Trumpians to come to terms with the new re­al­ity, but not im­me­di­ately.

“There will be a pe­riod of chaotic pol­icy be­fore the team be­gins to deal with the Mid­dle East of 2017,” he pre­dicts. “You can’t wind the clock con­ve­niently back to 2003, but that’s what these peo­ple want.”

‘We Have Lost’

RE­TIRED AM­BAS­SADOR Charles Free­man re­mem­bers the old Mid­dle East well. He served in Saudi Ara­bia and has wit­nessed years of war and fruit­less ne­go­ti­a­tions. A critic of Is­raeli settlement­s, he with­drew him­self from a nom­i­na­tion to be di­rec­tor of na­tional in­tel­li­gence in 2009 af­ter fierce op­po­si­tion from pro-is­rael lob­by­ists.

Trump’s stated Is­rael pol­icy is an ac­knowl­edg­ment of Amer­ica’s fail­ure in the re­gion, Free­man says. “The twostate solution is dead,” he says. “It’s been a peace process for the Pales­tini­ans only, and it was a myth. The U.S. has shown defini­tively that we are un­able to act as a bro­ker in this area be­cause we are 100 per­cent be­hind Is­rael. It’s like en­abling an al­co­holic to do all sorts of things that are quite bad for it­self. Now we have Mr. Trump and ‘the art of the deal.’ I am not an ad­mirer of Mr. Trump, but I have a lot of sym­pa­thy for what he’s got him­self into. There is a price the U.S. pays for aid­ing, abet­ting and fund­ing Is­raeli poli­cies. We are very of­ten among a hand­ful of coun­tries, iso­lated, and if you are gonna be ‘great again,’ it’s hard to see how that helps.”

On the last day of the Sa­ban Fo­rum, John Kerry, look­ing gaunt and weary as ever, took the stage. Jef­frey Gold­berg, editor of The At­lantic and a long­time Is­rael pun­dit, sat across from him, fire­side-chat style. Gold­berg pointed out that Is­rael has ig­nored the U.S. gov­ern­ment’s ob­jec­tions to set­tle­ment ex­pan­sion for decades. Kerry ob­jected.

“I think we do—i think we do have lever­age,” he said.

“They never lis­ten to you,” Gold­berg


re­sponded. “No, they don’t,” the sec­re­tary of state con­ceded. As the two spoke, it be­came clear to some in the room that they were wit­ness­ing a grave, de­ci­sive mo­ment in Mid­dle East­ern his­tory. “It was a eu­logy,” says J Street founder Jeremy Ben Ami. “It was him say­ing, with enor­mous sad­ness and re­gret, ‘We have lost.’”

But in the zero sum Trump World, one man’s loss is an­other’s gain. Sa­ban, a man who made his bil­lions im­port­ing Ja­pan’s Mighty Mor­phin Power Rangers to Hol­ly­wood and build­ing a chil­dren’s en­ter­tain­ment com­pany, summed up the mood of the Is­raeli guests at his con­clave. “If you be­long to the right wing, it’s a beau­ti­ful thing: Trump will give us a green light to do any­thing,” he said. “If you are left wing, you are in a to­tal state of panic and in deep need of a lot of Xanax.”

 ??  ??
 ??  ?? AMER­I­CAN SANTA: De­spite fork­ing over a mas­sive amount of de­fense money, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama has had a frosty re­la­tion­ship with Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu.
AMER­I­CAN SANTA: De­spite fork­ing over a mas­sive amount of de­fense money, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama has had a frosty re­la­tion­ship with Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu.
 ??  ?? HARD RIGHT TURN: Don­ald Trump, left, has ap­pointed Is­rael ad­vis­ers who are more pro-set­tler than Ne­tanyahu, right.
HARD RIGHT TURN: Don­ald Trump, left, has ap­pointed Is­rael ad­vis­ers who are more pro-set­tler than Ne­tanyahu, right.
 ??  ??
 ??  ?? MIS­ERY LOVES COM­PANY: Some an­a­lysts say the twostate solution is dead, which may mark a grave, de­ci­sive mo­ment for both Is­raelis, left, and Pales­tini­ans, right.
MIS­ERY LOVES COM­PANY: Some an­a­lysts say the twostate solution is dead, which may mark a grave, de­ci­sive mo­ment for both Is­raelis, left, and Pales­tini­ans, right.
 ??  ?? ODD COU­PLE: Trump ad­vis­ers Jared Kush­ner, left, and Stephen Ban­non. While Kush­ner, a real es­tate mogul, is Jewish, Ban­non ran a web­site that some call anti-semitic.
ODD COU­PLE: Trump ad­vis­ers Jared Kush­ner, left, and Stephen Ban­non. While Kush­ner, a real es­tate mogul, is Jewish, Ban­non ran a web­site that some call anti-semitic.
TRUMP: Ron Der­mer, Is­rael’s am­bas­sador to the U.S., says his coun­try is ea­ger to work with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, in­clud­ing Ban­non. But some fear the pres­i­dent-elect is en­abling the coun­try’s hard right.
GOOD TRUMP, BAD TRUMP: Ron Der­mer, Is­rael’s am­bas­sador to the U.S., says his coun­try is ea­ger to work with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, in­clud­ing Ban­non. But some fear the pres­i­dent-elect is en­abling the coun­try’s hard right.
 ??  ??
 ??  ?? THE NEXT INTIFADA? Pales­tini­ans hurl stones near the Beit El set­tle­ment. Many fear the end of the two-state solution could lead to more vi­o­lence.
THE NEXT INTIFADA? Pales­tini­ans hurl stones near the Beit El set­tle­ment. Many fear the end of the two-state solution could lead to more vi­o­lence.

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