How would Donald Trump handle the Israel-Gaza war?

Since October 7, the former president has given few details about what he would do

Former US president Donald Trump has been very supportive of Israel in the past, but analysts say there are no guarantees he will maintain that position if re-elected. Reuters
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Donald Trump calls himself the “most pro-Israel president ever” and – if elected to a second term – has promised to block anyone who does not believe in Israel's right to exist from entering the US.

But the former president also holds a long-standing grudge against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and has said Israel “is losing a lot of the world” in terms of support for its war in Gaza.

In the six months since the war erupted after the October 7 Hamas attacks, there has not been much scrutiny directed at Mr Trump and the Republican Party over how they would handle the conflict differently compared to President Joe Biden and the Democrats.

At only seven months from the general election, Mr Trump is leading in many national polls, particularly in swing states like Michigan, which has a large Arab-American community that has already said it will not support Mr Biden due to his stance on the conflict.

Republicans are often even more hawkish than Democrats in terms of their support for Israel, and some conservative members of Congress are openly calling for the mass killing of Palestinians.

But experts say it is not clear how Mr Trump would handle the war in Gaza or relations with Israel.

“Trump is a wild card,” Victor Shiblie, publisher of The Washington Diplomat newspaper, told The National.

“He's been very supportive of Israel, but maybe he won't be as supportive as people may think.”

Mr Trump has not offered any substantive details about what he would do to bring an end to the war, nor how he would address the humanitarian crisis, Israel’s planned offensive in Rafah, continuing efforts to broker a ceasefire in exchange for the release of the hostages and his vision for a postwar Gaza.

Republicans have, to a large extent, remained quiet on Gaza, seemingly content to let Mr Biden carry the political burden of delivering on America's “unwavering” support for its ally even as the civilian death toll in the enclave soars and tips into famine.

Mr Trump called the President “dumb” in his handling of the crisis, but has offered few of his own policy recommendations.

During Mr Trump's term from 2017-2021, he moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, breaking with decades of Washington policy. He also recognised Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights and advanced normalisation accords between Israel and its Arab neighbours.

In 2018, he closed the Palestinian mission in Washington and defunded the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

But a second Trump presidency could be different, says Moe Barakat, an Arab-American Republican from Maryland who is running for a Senate seat.

“He is, in many ways, taking it slowly,” Mr Barakat told The National.

“He doesn't want to be put a position that could eliminate support and he can afford it, given that he is not the president.”

The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for an interview or comment.

Observers point to Mr Trump's transactional style of politics, as well as his personal grievances with Mr Netanyahu.

His initial response to the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel which killed about 1,200 people, was to criticise Mr Netanyahu's lack of readiness – highlighting tension with Mr Netanyahu that dates back to when the Israeli Prime Minister congratulated Mr Biden on his 2020 election win, which Mr Trump was trying to overturn.

After his comments drew intense criticism from his Republican rivals, Mr Trump said he stood firmly with Israel and Mr Netanyahu, and that he would expand his administration’s travel ban on predominantly Muslim countries to include Palestinian refugees from Gaza.

Last month, he said Jewish people who vote for the Democrats hate Israel and their religion, igniting another firestorm of criticism.

Gaza beachfront properties

Mr Trump has oscillated between criticism of Israel and support, but son-in-law Jared Kushner, who was his adviser on the Middle East, and David Friedman, his former ambassador to Israel, have both embraced Israel's right-wing ideas of expelling Palestinians from Gaza.

Mr Kushner, calling the war “a little bit of an unfortunate situation”, said Gaza’s beachfront properties could be “very valuable”.

“From Israel's perspective, I would do my best to move the people out and then clean it up,” he said in an interview in February.

Mr Friedman criticised Vice President Kamala Harris for saying Palestinians would have nowhere else to go if Israel were to invade Rafah. He said she had left out “Egypt and other Arab countries”.

“I have no idea,” John Feehery, a Republican strategist, told The National as to what Mr Trump would do on Gaza, should he win.

“What he wouldn't do is what Biden is doing, which is prolonging the whole ordeal by looking weak.”

Foreign policy is not usually a major feature of US presidential elections.

But the Israel-Gaza war has become a significant flashpoint this election, with Mr Biden fielding intense anger from Arab and Muslim Americans as well as from progressive Democratic voters over his refusal to place conditions on military support for Israel.

More than 33,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, according to local health authorities, entire districts have been reduced to rubble and a humanitarian crisis has drawn international outcry.

While polls show that the majority of Americans – 55 per cent, according to a recent Gallup poll – disapprove of Israel’s actions in Gaza, US politicians have shown overwhelming support for additional military funding for Israel.

On March 22, only 22 Democrats voted against a bill that includes almost $3.3 billion in additional of aid for Israel, and blocks funding for UNRWA through 2025.

But earlier this month, some cracks in the Democratic Party's support for Israel were revealed when Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer chastised Mr Netanyahu in a lengthy speech, saying his policies in Gaza risk turning Israel into an international “pariah” and called on the government to hold new elections.

Aware of the risk to his re-election bid, Mr Biden has taken a somewhat stronger line on Israel of late, saying it must do more to protect civilians and aid workers or else risk losing US support.

The Republican Party, meanwhile, has demonstrated unequivocal support for Israel, with some even advocating the complete destruction of Gaza.

“We shouldn’t be spending a dime on humanitarian aid,” Tim Walberg, a Republican representative from Michigan, said in a video of a recent town hall meeting that has since gone viral.

“It should be like Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Get it over quick.”

In February, Andy Ogles, a Republican congressman, said “I think we should kill them all” when asked about children dying in Gaza. He then seemed to clarify his statement by saying: “Everybody in Hamas.”

Mr Netanyahu joined Senate Republicans earlier this month in a live video conference, during which lawmakers amplified their party’s unconditional support for Israel and lambasted Mr Schumer's comments calling for elections in the country.

Updated: April 11, 2024, 4:05 PM