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What would Donald Trump do in Gaza?

Some critics of the Biden administration say there's no difference between the two candidates on Israel policy. They're dead wrong.

It’s no secret that many progressives are furious at President Biden’s handling of the Israel-Gaza war. Eight months of horrifying images, death tolls, and accounts of human suffering, combined with US support of the war (including weapons sales, vetoes of UN resolutions, and political cover), have caused many on the Left to declare that they cannot vote for Biden this year.

I am not here to argue with any of those moral or political beliefs. But recently, I’ve heard  another story from several progressives: that Donald Trump would not be any different. 

And that is clearly wrong. 

Donald Trump was and would be an utter catastrophe for Palestine and the Palestinian people. And if solidarity with those people is your ideological commitment, if you care about the seven million people whose lives are at stake, then you must do everything in your power to keep Trump from returning to office. Including, if you live in a competitive state, voting for Joe Biden.

Before turning to actual policies, let me make what should be an obvious point: The Israeli right loves Donald Trump. Miriam Adelson, who with her late husband Sheldon Adelson has massively funded the Israeli Right, destabilized Israeli democracy, and underwritten settlements and other extremist projects, recently announced that she is committing $100 million to electing Trump president. Does anyone think for one moment that she is doing this to promote peace between Israel and Palestine?

Obviously not. She and other pro-Israel donors are supporting Trump because he will support a “strong Israel” and allow it to continue its de facto annexation of the West Bank (and perhaps Gaza). According to The New York Times, she said that people who criticize Israel or offer only qualified support are “dead to us” and considers “land for peace” deals to actually be “land for war.” This is who is spending $100 million to defeat Joe Biden.

But it’s not just extremists like Adelson. 

I wish a progressive reader of this column could sit next to a centrist or center-right reader of it. Because many supporters of Israel are also furious with Biden, but for the opposite ideological reasons: for putting too much pressure on Israel, forcing Israel to scale back its military operations and increase humanitarian aid, failing to clamp down on pro-Palestine protests, and undermining the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu. For many people, including perhaps many readers of these words, Biden has not been pro-Israel enough

So, if you’re more on the progressive side, don’t take my word for it: Watch how Republicans line up behind Netanyahu, how Israel’s more conservative supporters criticize Biden, and how every right-wing politician in Israel, from sane security hawks to insane messianic racists, yearns for the return of Donald Trump.

Now let’s look at some specific policies.

The first Trump administration was the friendliest towards Israel’s far right in American history. He gave the far right everything they wanted: a total freeze on all peace negotiations with the Palestinians, a blank check to increase the construction of settlements in the West Bank, and the once-unthinkable symbolic act of moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. 

Moreover, Trump’s key advisors on Israel were, themselves, part of the American-Israeli right wing. David Friedman, Trump’s ambassador to Israel, has deep ties to the settlement movement. If you want to talk about colonialism, Israel’s settlement project certainly qualifies, and Friedman was, himself, a longtime participant in and supporter of it. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, took a more pragmatic and less ideological approach to Israeli-Arab relations, but even there, his single greatest achievement during his time in the White House was decoupling Palestinian rights from the “Abraham Accords” signed with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

We don’t know for sure what a Trump administration would have done after Oct. 7 — but we can imagine. There is not a single action that Trump took between 2016-2020 that improved the lives, or even considered the lives, of Palestinians. Would he have acted any differently in 2023 and 2024? 

Of course not. Trump would not have forced Israel to allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza. Trump would not have forced Israel to the negotiating table. Trump would not have delayed (some) weapons sales to Israel. Trump would have written more blank checks to Bibi Netanyahu — both literally, in the form of increased aid, and figuratively, in the form of permission to do whatever Bibi’s government wanted to do in Gaza, up to and including the Israeli right’s plan to occupy the territory in perpetuity.

Indeed, all Trump has really said about the Gaza War was (on April 4 of this year) that Israel should “Get it over with and let’s get back to peace and stop killing people… They have to get it done. Get it over with and get it over with fast because we have to — you have to get back to normalcy and peace.” 

 “I’m not sure that I’m loving the way they’re doing it, because you’ve got to have victory,” he continued. “You have to have a victory, and it’s taking a long time.”

In other words, Trump isn’t saying there should be a ceasefire; he’s saying there should be a rapid, decisive Israeli victory. And the only way to “get it over with fast” is to increase the bombardment, displacement, and civilian deaths. He’s not calling for peace; he’s calling for more war that can lead to peace.

I’m not defending Biden’s policies from a left-wing perspective; I do not believe they can be defended in that way. His policies towards Israel have been centrist, perhaps center-left, and have balanced support for Israel with attempts to mitigate the suffering of innocent Palestinians.

But Trump’s policies would be nothing like that. They were, and would be, supportive of the extreme right-wing version of Zionism. Trump would never have pressured Israel the way Biden did — on the contrary, he would have urged them to bomb more. It’s hard to imagine the scale of the disaster Gaza would have seen as a result — and that Palestine will see, should Trump be elected again.

Voting is not the expression of support for everything a candidate does. It does not make one complicit in their every action. Rather, in competitive states, it is a tactical choice between one of two outcomes — namely, one of the two main candidates becoming president. Sometimes we vote out of wholehearted support, but other times we vote out of harm reduction. 

And if the rights and well-being of seven million Palestinians are important to you, there is no comparison between the extreme shortfalls of Biden and the extreme catastrophe of Trump.

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