If an American president and his administration wanted to guarantee Israel’s future as a country under constant assault, there are a few things he could do to make Israel’s daily existence as fraught as possible. The first would be to destabilize the West Bank, the territory that is closest to Israel proper and where massive unrest and violence has the potential to cause the greatest erosion in Israelis’ day-to-day life. This would involve a political track of undermining the Palestinian Authority – which, whatever else it may be, is a force for quiet and stability amidst its corrupt authoritarianism – and loosening its grip on power to the benefit of Hamas and other far more radical groups, and an economic track of destroying the current aid system that also employs thousands of Palestinians in schools, hospitals, and as workers on infrastructure projects. It would involve ensuring that the Palestinian Authority Security Forces could not pay full salaries to its members, enabling Hamas to infiltrate the group by bribing underpaid and frustrated security personnel. All of this would lay the groundwork for an eventual collapse of the PA, possibly a popular intifada, the potential takeover of the West Bank by Hamas, and the realization of a self-fulfilling prophecy of the West Bank indeed turning into Gaza.
Next would be to destabilize Jordan, which the Israeli security establishment views as Israel’s eastern security border, and put the survival of the Hashemite ruling family at risk. This would involve inflaming public opinion in Jordan by making high profile moves on Jerusalem and the West Bank, and strongly hinting that Jordan should be viewed as the future Palestinian state while any Jordanian stake in Jerusalem should be eliminated. It would also involve eliminating aid to Palestinian refugees in Jordan in the midst of an already ongoing Jordanian economic crisis, overextending the government’s capacity that was already stretched to the limit. Whatever replaces the monarchy is likely to be extremist, openly hostile to Israel, and present a continuous security headache on what is now Israel’s quietest and least worrisome border.
The most extensive and critical step would be to trash Israel’s most potent national security asset, which is bipartisan support in the U.S. This would be fairly difficult to unwind, so it would require a series of steps that play out over time. It would start with having Israeli government officials serve as proxies for a historically unpopular and polarizing president, defending him and his administration on American soil on issues that have nothing to do with Israel and making it clear that the Israeli government’s interests are tied to having this particular president remain in office. It would encompass constant assertions that only one of the two political parties in the U.S. is pro-Israel and that the other hates both Israel and Jews. It would involve repeated efforts to pass anti-BDS legislation that carries significant free speech concerns rather than bipartisan legislation addressing the issue, or tacking condemnations of anti-Semitism onto bills that are unrelated and using the amendment as a poison pill to either sink the larger bill or force the other side to vote down the anti-Semitism amendment. In all of these instances, the votes would be set up as traps to be able to pretend that your political opponents are anti-Israel when they vote no for reasons having nothing to do with Israel, and counting on the fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans pay attention only to your political spin rather than delving into the complications of legislation and procedural votes.
Finally, the combustible cherry on top of this radioactive sundae would be to stake out a position that is not only farther to the right of any administration before you, but one that boxes in any current or future Israeli government by being more hawkish than they are. The fastest way to do this would be to ditch the two-state solution altogether and tarnish it as a failed attempt that will never have any chance of success, and make clear that Palestinians should give up any hopes of political sovereignty. Then, construct a peace initiative that is branded as the deal of the century but is in fact a thinly veiled attempt to shift the Overton window so that it is centered on the Israeli right’s most ambitious fever dream. This would not actually be a deal in any normative sense of the word since there is no expectation of it being accepted by the Palestinian side, or even being balanced enough to allow for any type of negotiations. It would instead set a new baseline of unrealistic expectations for the Israeli side that would sabotage any potential future deal by moving the Israeli and Palestinian sides even further apart, with an even greater likelihood of paving the way for Israeli annexation of the West Bank as the U.S. cheers it on.
And it is this final step that would cement the disaster for Israel, as any claim to having moral authority as the only democracy in the Middle East, or shaking off the occupation of the West Bank as a temporary measure born from having no partner, would be gone forever. It would mean an endless fight against an empowered BDS that at some point will get real buy-in from European governments, the death of Israeli dreams of eventual integration into the wider Middle East and normalized relations with Sunni states, and a security hellscape dealing with Palestinians who want either their own state or Israeli citizenship but are not willing to countenance permanent second class status through autonomy on 40% of the West Bank. It would mean an Israel that never has quiet and sustainable borders, is never treated as a normal country, and is fated to fight a never-ending battle against its neighbors, the world, and its own conscience.
President Trump has done many things that Israelis like and that are objectively good for Israel. He has recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, made clear that the Golan Heights will remain in Israeli hands, and has worked assiduously to counter United Nations bias toward Israel. He has done other things that the Israeli government has cheered even if the IDF and Israeli security and intelligence agencies have not, such as pulling the U.S. out of the Iran deal and putting unprecedented pressure on the PA. But he has also taken the steps outlined above – including Jared Kushner’s comments on Tuesday finally making it clear that this administration has no use for any type of two-state formula – all of which are combining to create a disaster that Israel will have to live with well beyond Trump’s tenure. Many people choose to describe Trump as the most pro-Israel president, if not the most pro-Israel world leader, to ever walk the earth. I understand entirely why some people hold that view, but think about the sum total of his actions and then ask yourself whether what he will leave in his wake is going to make Israel stronger, safer, better off, and prepared to face the challenges of decades to come.