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Trump advisers talk of Palestinian expulsions, but activists focus on Biden

Even as Palestinian-rights organizers focus their ire on President Joe Biden, the advisers who shaped Donald Trump’s Middle East policies when he was president have amplified calls for the expulsion of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip and the annexation of the West Bank by Israel.

Those policy prescriptions, voiced by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and his former ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, suggest a right-wing approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict exceeding even the Trump administration’s lopsidedly pro-Israeli proposals for a two-state solution. Trump was contradictory on the policies he would pursue in an interview with a conservative Israeli publication. But he did say he would be meeting with Friedman to discuss the former ambassador’s plan for Israeli annexation of the West Bank.

Yet rather than raising alarm bells, some Palestinian organizers still maintain that Biden is the true threat, and that rhetoric from his Republican challenger cannot compare to policies that they say have already led to the killing of tens of thousands of Palestinians.

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“The fear of a second Trump term no longer resonates,” said Abed Ayoub, the national executive director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, who has been organizing Arab American and progressive voters in Michigan.

Ayoub suggested that if Trump was reelected because activists shun Biden, the Democratic Party could be forced to reconsider its position on Israel.

The ideas given voice by Friedman and Kushner have raised eyebrows. At a forum at Harvard University that first drew widespread attention last week, Kushner, a developer who has actively pursued real estate deals abroad off contacts made when he was setting policy in the White House, said that “Gaza’s waterfront property could be very valuable.” He also suggested Palestinians be “moved out” of the beleaguered territory.

“It’s a little bit of an unfortunate situation there, but from Israel’s perspective I would do my best to move the people out and then clean it up,” Kushner said. Palestinian civilians, he said, could be moved into the Negev desert in Israel’s arid south.

Friedman appeared to echo Kushner’s call for expulsions over the weekend when he criticized Vice President Kamala Harris on social media for saying that as many as 1.5 million Palestinians who have sought shelter in the southern Gaza city of Rafah had nowhere else to go if Israel attacked.

Friedman suggested that Gaza’s Palestinians could always emigrate.

“She ‘studied the maps’ and concluded that the people in Rafah have no place to go,” Friedman wrote. “It must have been an awfully small map — obviously left out Egypt and other Arab countries.”

Later, responding to denunciations by Palestinian rights activists, Friedman wrote that he was “advocating getting civilians temporarily out of harm’s way during a war.”

“It looks like you would prefer that they suffer so you can maintain your anti-Israel narrative,” Friedman said on social media.

Meanwhile, Friedman has been pushing a Future of Judea & Samaria plan, using the biblical terminology for the West Bank to assert what he says is Israel’s right to annex the territory, which under long-standing U.S. policy is supposed to constitute the lion’s share of an eventual sovereign Palestinian state. The West Bank has been under military occupation since 1967.

Presenting his plan last month at the conference of the National Religious Broadcasters in Nashville, Tennessee, Friedman called Biden’s fresh push for a two-state solution — Israel and a Palestinian state existing side by side — a “dead letter.”

In Trump’s interview with the right-wing publication, Israel Hayom, he did not embrace either prescription, but he did say he would be meeting with Friedman to discuss his annexation plan.

Both the Biden campaign and the White House responded cautiously on the sensitive issues of Israel’s prosecution of the war in Gaza and what might follow. White House aides reiterated that the president had rejected any forced displacement of Palestinians from Gaza, the reconstitution of Israeli settlements in the territory and the “shrinkage” of Gaza’s borders. And they said he would continue to press for Palestinian sovereignty in the West Bank and Gaza.

“President Biden shares the goal for an end to the violence and a just, lasting peace in the Middle East,” Lauren Hitt, a campaign spokesperson, said in a statement.

Karoline Leavitt, a Trump campaign spokesperson, indicated that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee did not intend to signal any change in policy with his remarks to Israel Hayom, in which he exhorted Israel “to finish up your war” and then pursue some form of peace.

“He fully supports Israel’s right to defend itself and eliminate the terrorist threat,” Leavitt said in a statement. “He also believes that Israel’s interests will be best served by completing this mission as quickly, decisively and humanely as possible so that the region can return to peace and stability​.”

The overall tone of the Trump interview with Israel Hayom was muddled and contradictory. Beyond his call for Israel to “get the job done” in Gaza, he also appeared to criticize Israel’s propaganda efforts. “Every night, I would watch buildings pour down on people,” he said, suggesting such images should not have been disseminated.

Such contradictions were not lost on Palestinian activists. “He said Israel should be careful because it’s losing diplomatic support, not because it’s killing Palestinians,” said Tarek Khalil, a Chicago board member of American Muslims for Palestine.

But activists involved in the all-out push to reverse the United States’ military support for the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that they would not be pushed into supporting Biden’s reelection because of Trump’s rhetoric.

“It’s noteworthy that even Trump, Netanyahu’s strongest ally in the world, believes Israel is losing global and American public opinion,” said Waleed Shahid, who has been coordinating communications for Palestinian-rights activists. “On the electoral front, Biden faces more scrutiny from voters on Gaza because he was the president who supplied weapons to a horrific war, even if Trump would have done the same.”

Khalil was more direct about his ambivalence toward Trump: “Just because his rhetoric is more extreme doesn’t mean he’d be worse,” he said. “What Trump has said is ugly, but Biden is the one enabling a genocide.”

Like Ayoub, Khalil said that Biden’s oft-repeated framing — that the election in November will be a choice between two candidates, not a referendum — would not carry the day with Arab American voters and their allies among young progressives.

“You cannot use your opposition to diminish what you’ve done,” Khalil said.

For Biden, battling for votes especially in the critical battleground of Michigan, with its large Arab American population, such sentiments are unmitigatedly bad news. His decision on Monday to allow the United Nations Security Council to approve a binding call for a cease-fire in Gaza appears to have done nothing to sway his opposition.

Ayoub called the Biden administration’s abstention on the vote “clearly a change in policy.”

“But at the same time,” he added, “they’re still sending weapons, they’re still providing funding, they’re still doing a lot of things that contribute” to the carnage.

White House officials on Tuesday ticked through the steps the administration had taken to get humanitarian aid into Gaza, including pressing the Israeli and Egyptian governments to open border crossings and forcing the resumption of fuel shipments into the territory.

But none of that has proved persuasive as Israel pursues its military campaign to destroy Hamas, the perpetrator of the killing of around 1,200 Israelis on Oct. 7.

Trump and Biden are “not the only two choices,” Ayoub said, “and it doesn’t fall upon Palestinian-rights activists and peace activists to take one of those two choices. If the byproduct of our choice is another Trump administration, then Democrats need to look at what they did for the next election.”

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