While President Donald Trump prepares to make his first trip abroad to Israel where he reportedly will announce his administration’s plan for the creation of a Palestinian state (without East Jerusalem as its capital), some members of his own party are calling for an alternative plan: “Israeli victory, Palestinian defeat.”
This is according to the tagline of the new congressional “Israel Victory Caucus” which was launched on April 27, 2017, at a press conference in the Rayburn House Office Building by co-chairs Rep Bill Johnson (R-OH) and Ron DeSantis (R-FL). Congressmen Keith Rothfus (R-PA), Doug Lamborn (R-CO), and Alex Mooney (R-WV) were also in attendance. The event outlined the key policies the caucus will be advocating for the Trump administration to pursue: moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, ending U.S. funding of the Palestinian Authority and UN agencies that give aid to Palestinians, and securing the safety of Israeli settlers living in the occupied Palestinian territory.
Israel should “convince the Palestinians that they have lost,” said the head of the Middle East Forum Daniel Pipes, who spoke at the event.
The caucus says it will not focus on historical compromises or division of territory. Instead, it asks Palestinians to accept Israel’s goals. “Victory means imposing your will on your enemy so that he no longer wants to fight, and I think that’s the essence here,” Pipes said.
“Winning doesn’t mean slaughtering your enemy, but it means imposing your will on your enemy,” he continued.
Pipes is a far right-wing historian who notably insists President Barack Obama is a Muslim. The Southern Poverty Law Center lists him as an “anti-Muslim extremist” and said his Middle East Forum is a “major funder of Muslim-bashers even more radical than himself.”
During the 2016 campaign, Pipes endorsed Senator Ted Cruz, and compared Trump to Italian fascist Benito Mussolini, “If this kind of politics has no precedent at the highest precincts of American politics, it does elsewhere, and it has a name: neo-fascism,” Pipes wrote in April 2016.
Yet once Trump proposed banning Muslims from entering the U.S. in August of last year, Pipes warmed to Trump in an interview with Breitbart, where Pipes and other senior staff at the Middle East Forum have held stints as frequent contributors and are regular guests on its SiriusXM radio program.
Pipes and his think-tank are the brain trust advising Johnson and DeSantis. Both congress members are relatively new to formulating policy points on Middle East peace-making. Johnson told media his first trip to the region was on a Judeo-Christian tour free to U.S. elected officials in 2014 where he said he zip lined “over the Hebron valley” in the West Bank—“that was a scary thing,” he said.
Johnson explains, the caucus views the Israelis and the Palestinians as in a protracted state of “war.” If wars only end when one party becomes the victor, he wants the victor to be Israel.
“Israel has been at war with its immediate neighbors over the right to existence as the nation-state of Israel—the nation-state of the Jewish people—for nearly 70 years, and we believe that Israel has been victorious in this war. And this reality must be recognized,” Johnson said.
After the briefing, asked if he would endorse Trump’s vision for a Palestinian state, Johnson said he and the caucus would be against it, “I do not personally support a two-state solution. At least to the current Palestinian thinking, that is not the end result, that is a means to another solution.”
Johnson added, he was not told by the White House that a deal for a Palestinian state is in the works.
“I haven’t heard that myself from the administration. The only thing I’ve heard from the president is he supports moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” he said.
Yet in the days after Johnson’s group launch, Trump indicated that he may use his May 22, 2017 trip to Israel to announce a new paradigm for U.S. brokered negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. On May 3, 2017, Trump met with Abbas and the two held a joint press conference. The exchange was warm. Trump said the Israelis and Palestinians get along “beautifully.”
This was followed by a reluctant Netanyahu accepting Trump’s bid for peace talks, albeit not without making a dig at Abbas.
“The President [Trump] is seeking to examine ways of renewing the peace process with the Palestinians. I share in this desire as do the citizens of Israel. We want peace. We are also educating our children for peace. I heard Abu Mazen, who praises terrorists and pays them according to the severity of the murders they committed against Israelis; I heard Abu Mazen say that the Palestinians are also educating their children for peace. I regret that this is simply incorrect,” Netanyahu’s said.
With Netanyahu’s statement indicating he is on board with Trump’s plan, what exactly the Victory Caucus can achieve is likely limited to shaping the rhetoric of the administration.
“Israel is not the problem in the Middle East, Israel is the solution in the Middle East,” representative DeSantis said at the caucus lunch. Adding, Israel is “a diamond in the rough.”
Also speaking at the caucus launch, Gary Lee Bauer, undersecretary of education for Ronald Reagan and a board member of the Emergency Committee for Israel, a group that ran attack ads against Obama as “not pro-Israel” said, “If you see a conflict between barbarism and civilization, you have to rally for civilization.”