Trump and Netanyahu: a dangerous mix
By Ghassan Michel Rubeiz
President Trump has just closed the Palestine Authority’s office in Washington for refusing to negotiate with his team, led by his son-in-law, on a dubious peace plan, and for taking Israel to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes. The US Administration has recently cut aid (around 300 million dollars annually) to the United Nations Palestinian Relief for Palestinian refugees program (UNRWA) and eliminated its slightly smaller contributions to projects of human service and development. US aid to Palestinians is relatively minimal but still significant symbolically.
Blaming the victim, Washington is challenging Palestine’s refugees even for their right to remain in the status of refugees (specifically descendents of the displaced of 1948 war: nearly 5 million residents of refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria). The US has accused UNRWA for “perpetuating the problem”, depressed the prospects of Palestinian statehood and ignored Israel’s new legislation which formally marginalizes non-Jewish citizens, numbering over a quarter of the population of Israel of 1948.
The Trump administration has been closer to Netanyahu’s government than any other US President. Trump is following the steps of the current Israeli government on every central Mideast issue. Ignoring his international partners, he has trashed US participation in the Iran nuclear deal, and intensified diplomatic efforts and economic measures in confronting Iran. He has inserted US troops in a strategic oil producing region of Syria and condoned Israel’s air attacks on selected targets of the Assad regime. He has expanded sanctions on Lebanon’s Hezbollah and joined the efforts of Arab Gulf states in their scandalous war on Yemen. Trump is exactly where Netanyahu wants him to be on the most sensitive aspects of Mideast policies.
Why are these two leaders so close? There are two main reasons. The first is the similarity in mindset between these two men. Both are populists, self serving and prone to ignore norms; they are under investigation for crime by their own systems of justice. Both live comfortably with denial of facts. Both are fueled by anger. They are oblivious to scientifically established facts and widely ratified codes.
The second reason connecting these two leaders is a set of domestic political conditions which helped them win votes. Factors like societal fear of “foreigners”, a right-wing social climate, glaring sectarian politics and a subculture of “might makes right” have facilitated electing manipulative leaders who are willing to sacrifice national interests for personal gain.
It is not a hard to see the connection between Israel’s irrational fear of a growing Palestinian population and the fear of privileged Americans of emigrants. Has Netanyahu’s isolation wall in the West Bank inspired Trump to call for a “protective” wall on its southern border with Mexico?
Second, the ideological shift in Israel from the Labor Party to Likud, mirrors in the US the demise of Democrats and ascendance of Republicans in both houses of Congress.
Third, the there is a parallel in the disturbing role of religion in politics. The ascendance of the Hasidic and Orthodox communities in Israeli politics is matched by an emboldened US extreme Evangelist grassroots movement. No wonder, Israel’s wildest dreams are facilitated by America’s religious fanatics. The extreme Evangelists are more Zionist in passion and action than regular Israeli citizens.
The fourth parallel societal trend is the heavy spending on the military, to preserve superiority in defense. Trump keeps bragging that he has increased the military budget substantially, ignoring the fact that the US outspends any nation in the world on arms; the US has active military presence in 150 countries. Similarly, the confidence with which Netanyahu threatens Iran reveals how far Israel is willing to take risk of starting a new regional war. Israel, a relatively small country, relies on the most sophisticated technology to perpetuate occupation, annexation and suppression.
Unquestionably, the link between Trump and Netanyahu delays peace, but these two leaders are not likely to stay long in power. However, societal factors which interfere with justice tend to be more lasting than specific regimes. It will take considerable time, attitude change, and inspired reform to deal with fear of coexistence, with right-wing ideology (e.g. passion for tax reduction, weak sensitivity to inequality, addiction to gun ownership), control sectarian politics and moderate defense spending. As a result, the US Mideast policy and Israel’s attachment to the occupation is here to stay for the near future.
No group is as painfully and anxiously observing the threats of current, parallel and interactive social trends to America and Israel as the Jewish community in the US. Jewish Americans are generally liberal, except on issues pertaining to Israel. Notwithstanding blind spots, this community remains very sensitive to social justice. It is painful for many in America and elsewhere to watch Israel become too strong and too wealthy to accept limits in power, resources and borders. The future of the Middle East is intimately tied to how effective the Jewish Diaspora will be in saving Israel from itself.
One would have asked the same of, and made the same plea to, the Arab Diasporas. But Arabs abroad are not as powerful in America or in their region.
Trump and Netanyahu are a dangerous mix but their emergence and linkage are symptoms of deeper political trends in their societies.
Ghassan Michel Rubeiz, retired from a post with the Geneva-based World Council of Churches, writes and lectures on Middle East affairs. He can be reached by email: Rubeizg@gmail.com.
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Ray Hanania is an award winning political and humor columnist who analyzes American and Middle East politics, and life in general. He is an author of several books.
"I write about three topics, the Middle East, politics and life in general. I often take my life experiences and offer them in an entertaining way to readers, and I take on the toughest topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict and don't pull any punches about what I feel is fair. But, my priority is always about writing the good story."
Hanania covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).
Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, the TheArabDailyNews.com, www.TheDailyHookah.com and at SuburbanChicagoland.com. He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper, YNetNews.com, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.
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