Israel-Palestine

Receding hope

Print edition : March 17, 2017

U.S. President Donald Trump during a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington on February 15. Photo: EVAN VUCCI/AP

Palestinians climb on top of Israel's controversial separation wall between the West Bank village of Bilin near Ramallah and the Israeli settlement of Modiin Ilit during a demonstration against settlements in the area on February 17. Photo: ABBAS MOMANI/AFP

Donald Trump expresses support for a one-state solution, which would mean the permanent subjugation of the Palestinian people and accelerated alienation from their homeland.

UNITED States President Donald Trump seems determined to give the occupied territories to the Israelis on a platter and junk the two-state solution, if the statement he made at a joint conference he addressed with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is any indication. He seemed to go back on more than 20 years of stated American policy supporting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has raged for the past seven decades. Trump said he was looking at both “the two-state and one-state solution”, and added that he would accept either solution if the two parties involved in the conflict agreed. It was the first time a U.S. President had openly expressed support for a one-state solution to the conflict. A one-state solution, which is what the Israeli state has been building a case for, would mean the permanent subjugation of the Palestinian people and accelerated alienation from their homeland.

Netanyahu exulted when Trump won the presidency, especially after his statement that he would shift the American embassy to Jerusalem. On the campaign trail, Trump promised to be “the most pro-Israeli President in history”. After his swearing-in as President, better sense seems to prevailing in the corridors of power in Washington. There at least seems to be no rush to shift the embassy to Jerusalem. East Jerusalem is the designated capital of the state of Palestine.

But Palestinians continue to be deeply suspicious of the Trump presidency since avid supporters of the Zionist project now play an active role in the Trump administration. Among them is Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who is now an adviser to the President. Kushner’s father has donated generously to the right wing in Israel, including to settlement projects in the West Bank.

As soon as Trump was sworn in, the Israeli government announced plans for further settlements in the occupied territories, in Jerusalem as well as the West Bank.

The President-elect had chosen David M. Friedman, a known Zionist hawk who helped raise millions of dollars for illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, as his Ambassador to Israel. Trump belatedly and almost half-heartedly remarked in February that the continued building of settlements was “not good” for the peace process. At a joint press conference that he addressed with Netanyahu, Trump urged the Israeli leader “to pull back on the settlements a little bit”.

The Israeli parliament in February approved a new “Settlement Bill” that retrospectively recognises all the settlements built illegally on Palestinian land. Many Israeli commentators described the law as the “last nail in the coffin” for a two-state solution.

Before the Bill was passed, Netanyahu, giving up any pretence of support for a two-state solution, declared that Israel would continue building settlements in the occupied territories. The passage of the Bill will give Israel the power to confiscate Palestinian land at will. Dan Meridor, a former Minister who served under Netanyahu, described the new law as “evil and dangerous”. The opposition leader Isaac Herzog said the law would leave the international community no option but to take Netanyahu and company to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The Israeli government is already celebrating the demise of the two-state formula for a lasting peace in the region. Netanyahu never once uttered the words “two states” during his joint press appearance with Trump. The Israeli Prime Minister told the media in Washington that the “settlements issue” was not “the core of the conflict” and expressed his confidence that he and Trump would arrive at an understanding on the issue very soon. “Netanyahu received exactly what he wanted from the American president,” Sima Kadmon, an Israeli commentator, said in a newspaper column. Trump had refused to take calls to meet the Palestinian leadership from the time he was elected President until he met the Israeli Prime Minister. A Palestinian delegation that had come to meet Trump in December had to leave after waiting in vain for an appointment for more than a fortnight. Saeb Erekat, the Palestine Authority’s (P.A.) chief contact person with Washington, told the media that the Trump transition team did not even bother to respond to messages. Previous U.S. Presidents spent hundreds of hours talking to Mahmoud Abbas, President of Palestine. One of the first acts of the Trump administration was to suspend a grant of $221 million in humanitarian aid for the beleaguered Palestinians in the occupied territories. Since the time of the Oslo peace deal, the Palestinian leadership has placed all its faith on the U.S. in the quest to achieve full statehood. The U.S. became the sole arbiter in the spluttering peace talks between Israel and Palestine for the last two decades. Trump’s undisguised support for a “one state” solution came on the heels of a conference in Paris on Palestine that was attended by more than 70 countries. The conference issued a statement warning that the two-state solution envisaged in the Oslo accords of 1994 and the ongoing peace process was imperilled by the expansion of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land. One of the newly announced settlement blocs lies in the heart of Palestinian territory. The European Union has reiterated its support for the two-state solution, with the pre-1967 borders as the basis for negotiations.

The veteran Palestinian diplomat Hanan Ashrawi said the latest moves by the Israeli government once again highlighted the fact that it was “more committed to land theft and colonialism than to the two-state solution”. Top Palestinian officials said the only alternative to a two-state solution was one state in which Jews, Muslims and Christians enjoyed equal rights, not an apartheid state that right-wing Jewish politicians envisaged. Saeb Erekat called on the international community “to stand shoulder to shoulder” with Palestinians in their search for a just and honourable solution.

“We want to tell those who want to destroy and bury a two-state solution that the real alternative to a Palestinian state living alongside an Israeli one on the 1967 lines is a secular democratic state in which Jews, Christians and Muslims can live together,” he said. Erekat reminded the international community that recognising Israel itself was a great sacrifice on the part of the Palestinians. The two-state solution, he said, “represents a painful and historic Palestinian compromise of recognising Israel which has taken over 78 per cent of Palestinian land”.

Michael Pompeo, director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), was in Ramallah around the time the Israeli Prime Minister was visiting Washington. He was evidently dispatched to soothe the frayed nerves of the P.A. leadership. Any renunciation of the two-state solution by the U.S. could sound the death knell for the Fatah leadership in the West Bank. The Palestinian on the street will not take things lying down if Israel abandons the peace process. Mahmoud al-Zahar, one of the senior-most Hamas leaders, said that Mahmoud Abbas was wasting his time and the time of the Palestinians and in the process “helping the Israelis expand their settlements”. He went to the extent of describing the Palestinian President as “a traitor”.

The experience of minorities in the Jewish state of Israel is no advertisement for a “one state” solution. Palestinians constitute one-fifth of the population but own only 2.5 per cent of the land. More than 700 towns and cities have been built for the Jews in Israel. No such urban development has been earmarked for Palestinians, who continue to languish in overcrowded urban and rural ghettos. Many Arab villages are not recognised by the Israeli authorities. Many have been uprooted to make way for Jewish homes. In the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem, the total number of Jewish settlers is more than 750,000 today. The numbers have tripled since the Oslo accords were signed. The United Nations has estimated that 250,000 Palestinians have been expelled from the occupied territories since the 1967 war.In December, the Security Council had passed a resolution condemning the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, describing them as “a flagrant violation of international law”. All Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are illegal under international law, as the latest Security Council resolution re-emphasised. The Obama administration had allowed the resolution to pass, breaking with the U.S. practice of vetoing resolutions that were even mildly critical of Israel. John Kerry, Secretary of State under Obama, on his last visit to Israel, issued a dark warning about Israel’s policies saying that the “status quo is leading toward one state and perpetual occupation”. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, has also weighed in against abandoning the two-state solution. He said there was “no alternative solution” for the Israel-Palestine dispute.

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