When looking for international friends of Palestine, Donald Trump’s name tends not to come up on the list. In fact, Trump is likely the most rhetorically and materially pro-Israel leader in American history. Furthermore, rather than speaking about his positive views on Israel covertly, Trump touts his shaping of US policy in the Middle East in an even more pro-Israel direction as a supreme achievement.
Two recent statements from Trump reveal a long standing truth that his less rhetorically loose predecessors always skirted. Trump stated that the main reason that US troops remain in the Middle East is to protect Israel while also stating that the reason why it is important to support the Saudi establishment (even in light of the Jamal Khashoggi murder) is because Riyadh under the de-facto leadership of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman is incredibly pro-Israel.
In terms of Trump’s domestic audience, his pro-Israel remarks help to square his pre-election promise to withdraw troops from the Middle East with the reality that the US remains deeply involved in the region. While Trump campaigned on a platform of comparative non-intervention in the Middle East, he also campaigned on a pro-Israel platform, something that is unsurprising given that his right wing base tends to be largely pro-Israel. This itself fits in with the phenomenon of support for Israel among Americans becoming an increasingly right wing cause. While Israel’s powerful PR machine asserts a narrative that Israel is both a victim of so-called Palestinian terrorism while also an aggressor in so far as Israel has more firepower than any state in the region (let alone Palestine), among younger generations of Americans, Israel’s firepower is admired among the right while Israel’s victim narrative is becoming less convincing to those on the American left (especially among younger Americans) who once were largely pro-Israel as much if not more so than the US right.
Because right wingers who admire superior firepower tend not to require any attempts at ethical justifications for their policies, Trump is all too happy to offer an “Israel: right or wrong” narrative to his domestic base. And yet at the same time, Trump’s candid statements on Israel and in particular his statements regarding Saudi Arabia’s undeclared partnership with Israel are actually creating excellent PR for Palestine in the Middle East and even beyond.
With recent reports from Arabic media making it all too clear that Mohammad bin Salman is now working with Egypt to convince other Arab states to normalise relations with Israel, Trump’s confirmation of Riyadh being vital for Israel’s survival are being picked up by the wider Arab street as a confirmation of an hypothesis that was once derided as a “conspiracy theory”. Today, the old “conspiracy theory” about Saudi Arabia working to force the Arab world to accept Israel is now a fact confirmed proudly by the US President and one that isn’t even particularly denied by Saudi Arabia – a nation whose media prefers to heap scorn on Sunni Muslim majority Turkey and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
This all helps to bolster the genuine victimhood narrative of Palestinians who for decades have complained about being short changed, ignored or even betrayed by major Arab states. Now, both Washington and Riyadh are signalling that the betrayal is not only real but a calculated policy based more on perceived self interests than on the more abstract concept of justice for the last part of the Arab world that has been denied self-government under indigenous Arab leadership.
While it would be morose to say that Palestinians should thank Donald Trump for confirming what many had suspected for decades, the fact of the matter is that because the current Palestinian leadership is so incredibly weak and uninspiring, Trump’s revelation that the richest Arab state is in fact openly betraying Palestine, is far better PR for the Palestinian cause than any of the flaccid statements coming from most mainstream Palestinian politicians. Now it has been made clear that Palestine faces some of the most powerful enemies money can buy ranging from the US and Israel to Saudi Arabia and its Arab fellow travellers.
Trump’s statements are also good for Turkey and Iran who can now both say “we told you so” to Palestinians who may have doubted that the two regional powers who are most concerned with the central issue to Arab post-colonial/neo-colonial politics are in fact two non-Arab powers.
Thus, Trump has unleashed the law of unintended consequences on the Middle East. His domestic pro-Israel rhetoric that plays to gun loving “born again Christians” in America’s heartlands, is also helping to awaken the Arab street to the deep betrayal of multiple Arab leaders, all the while helping Palestinians to realise that their best friends are increasingly from outside of the Arab world.