During what must be a whirlwind weekend on a golf course in New Jersey for the president-elect, Donald Trump met with several potential cabinet picks today, including Mitt Romney. One of the other potential picks summoned to kiss the ring was James Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general who most recently ran CENTCOM, the Department of Defense's command force covering the Middle East and North Africa. Mattis is notable for being a tough critic of the potential for a nuclear-armed Iran. He also a supported the Iran deal negotiated by President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, whom he one praised for being "focused like a laser beam on."
This would seemingly pose a problem for Trump—who promised to "dismantle" the Iran deal during a pandering, reactionary speech to conservative Jewish organization AIPAC—but differences over the Iran deal pale in comparison to differences about Israel. During a 2013 interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer at the Aspen Security Forum, Mattis said, "I paid a military-security price every day as the commander of CENTCOM because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel," which, as the Forward noted, his predecessor David Petraeus also said.
During the Q&A, Blitzer again asked about the prospects of the two-state solution. Part of Mattis' reponse, via the Forward:
We have got to find a way to make the two-state solution that Democrat and Republican administrations have supported, we’ve got to get there. And the chances for it, as the king of Jordan has pointed out, are starting to ebb because of the settlements and where they’re at, are going to make it impossible to maintain the two-state option.For example, if I’m Jerusalem and I put 500 Jewish settlers out here to the east and there’s 10,000 Arab settlers in here, if we draw the border to include ‘em, either it ceases to be a Jewish state or you say the Arabs don’t get to vote—apartheid. That didn’t work too well the last time I saw that practiced in a country.
The Israeli settlements on Palestinian land (a hugely controversial topic in the U.S. and Israel that many critics credibly compare to modern-day colonialism) is a rare topic that has been relatively untouched by Trump. Because of that, many in the Israeli far right, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to believe he will support or be hands-off when it comes to settlements.
Mattis's appointment has not been announced, and even if it was, he requires a Congressional waiver to serve as Secretary of Defense. But should he be appointed, he would represent one of the very few independent critics of Israeli settlement policy in the Trump White House.
Sam Stecklow is the Weekend Editor for Fusion.