Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Here’s what pro-Trump Israeli campaigners think about Palestine

By Matt Matthews - September 07, 2016
Section: [Main News]
Tags: [settlements] [US foreign policy] [West Bank] [US Election]

The Republican Overseas Israel (ROI) campaign has no official ties to the United States’ Republican Party, or to the presidential campaign of Donald Trump. Its efforts to win ex-pat votes for the right-wing tycoon, which include a campaign office in an illegal West Bank settlement, are entirely self-funded.

The Palestine Monitor spoke to ROI co-chairman Marc Zell to find out what motivated the Israeli pro-Trump lobby, and what a Trump victory would mean for Palestine.

There are around 300,000 eligible United States voters resident in Israel, East Jerusalem and the settlements. Left-wing former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) have brought the question of Palestinian rights into the American public consciousness. Israel could therefore be a key issue at the ballot box. But Trump’s policy on Palestine has been typically diffuse.

At first professing to be “neutral” and even mildly rebuking Israel for their unwillingness to make 'sacrifices” in pursuit of a deal, he soon came round to a more typical right-wing standpoint. Trump now endorses the Zionist settler project in the West Bank, and denied the Palestinian right to statehood in a platform he trumpeted as “the most pro-Israel of all time!”.

Most commentators trace this turnaround to the importance of the massively influential pro-Israeli lobbying organization AIPAC, and a desire to secure the votes - and cash - of the Jewish diaspora in the USA. As the Jerusalem Post notes, a third of all campaign donations in the USA come from the Jewish community, though this demographic only makes up only 2% of the nation’s population. There are also crucial Jewish voting blocs in several key states.

But Marc Zell believes Trump’s flip-flopping approach indicates a genuine political openness, a “re-evaluation of his thinking” – an openness which will play into Israeli hands. With regards to the question of illegal Israeli expansion in the West Bank, Marc said, “Trump’s position is the Israelis have to decide what’s best for them.”

Meanwhile, Trump used a 2016 interview to say he intended to review all of the USA’s foreign aid giving, including to Israel. “That got loads of people in AIPAC and other organizations worried,” Marc said. “But he looked at this issue, and came to the conclusion that United States gets as much back as it gives in dollar terms: intelligence, logistical support, security. In the specific case of Israel, it’s a two way street.”

In contrast, Marc expressed hope that a Trump administration would “take a closer look at the US policy of giving aid to 'Judea-Samaria’,” funneling money away from Palestinian projects to joint Israeli-Palestinian ventures.

“Are they really advancing the US interest by giving money to [the PLO], which perpetuates the refugee status of people who are third or fourth generation refugees?” he asked.

As an American-born lawyer who now lives in the illegal settlement Alon Shvut in the Southern West Bank, Marc repeatedly used the term 'Judea-Samaria’ to refer to the area, and made it clear he views the region as rightfully Israeli.

The presence of the part-time pro-Trump office in Karnei Shomron settlement embodies the policies ROI hope to see implemented in the region: support for Israeli expansionism, ring-fenced or increased military aid to Israel, and American military intervention across the border in Syria.

Strikingly, many of these policies could have come from the mouth of Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton. “The United States and Israel must be closer than ever, stronger than ever,” she told AIPAC, in a speech at their 2016 conference. Her 4000 word keynote address did not once mention the occupation or Israeli aggression towards Palestinians.

While Clinton criticized the settler project and the Gaza blockade as Secretary of State, in the years leading up to her presidential run she has veered sharply to the right on the issue. In a widely-circulated letter to mega-donor Haim Saban, Clinton recently vowed to stamp out the BDS movement as a threat to “vibrant Israeli Democracy”. She wholeheartedly endorsed the Israeli assault on Gaza in 2014, and used her AIPAC speech to pledge even greater military aid to Israel.

In doing so, she is following Democratic precedent. As Marc pointed out, “Arabs and Jews alike have not been particularly happy” with the Obama administration’s efforts in the region. But despite tussling with Benjamin Netanyahu, the outgoing president is set to sign off on the largest military aid package ever given to another country, with the Israelis pocketing up to $40 billion over the course of a decade.

Though support for Israel may be plummeting among Clinton’s liberal base, the Jewish-American vote remains staunchly Democrat, and backers like Saban are vehemently pro-Israel.

“In the case of Israel, America’s getting the benefit of the bargain,” Marc said of the United States’ foreign aid policy. The observation holds true with regards to both candidates’ campaign finances.

Polls vary as to the outcome of the November 8 election. But in the absence of billionaire Palestinian donors or influential Arab voting blocs, for American politicians the Palestinian question can only have an Israeli answer.

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