Did President Trump Just Kill the Two State Solution?

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The idea that the so-called “two-state solution” to the Israel-Palestine conflict was the only path to a resolution to the long running conflict has been a cornerstone of U.S. Middle East policy for over 20 years. The concept of two states for Palestinians and Jews was the basis for the original UN partition plan for historical Palestine in 1947. The 1993 Oslo Accords gave international recognition to the concept, established the Palestinian Authority to govern portions of the West Bank and began a five-year transitional process towards the formation of a Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza. This so-called Peace Process never went anywhere. In 1993, there were 300,000 Jewish settlers living in occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Today, there are over 600,000.

Last month, following a U.S. abstention allowing the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 2334 supporting two states and condemning the Jewish settlement project, I wrote an articlearguing that this resolution was largely symbolic since the concept of two states was no longer realistic given the enormous number of Jewish settlements on land envisioned for a Palestinian State. This week in his press conference, following a series of meetings between Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and administration officials, President Trump seemed to recognize this reality and to back away from long-standing dogma when he said, “I’m looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like”.

Many Palestinians, particularly the younger generation, have recognized this reality for some time. A prominent Palestinian businessman described to me his conversation with his daughter, who at the time was a sophomore at MIT. She said, “Dad it’s over. We need to recognize that they won. We tried everything, violence, (that only proved that we aren’t very good fighters), negotiation and non-violence. Nothing worked. They won. They get the land, the water, the resources, everything.  I just want to know where I get my free education and healthcare and where do I vote.” Another Palestinian friend said to me, “I don’t care if it’s called Palreal or Israelstine, it’s the only way.”

Even this relatively mild statement by President Trump provoked a vehement response from those who have been committed to the two-state framework as the only way forward. Jewish congressmen attacked Trump’s remarks as threatening the existence of the State of Israel.  Addressing the issue of how a bi-national Israel must choose between being a democracy which is no longer Jewish or being an apartheid state, NY Times writer Tom Friedman summed up the dilemma for Zionist Jews when he wrote in an op-ed piece entitled “President Trump: Will You Save the Jews?” Now, “that debate will not be about which are the best borders to defend the state of Israel,” said the Hebrew University philosopher Moshe Halbertal, “but whether the state is worth defending in moral terms.”

Given the history of the Trump administration over the past few weeks, one certainly must be skeptical that what is said actually reflects policy; however, if it does, it could be a major step forward toward resolving the conflict. A first step in solving a problem is to recognize the brutal reality.

UN Resolution 2334: Good, Bad or Indifferent?

The adoption by the UN Security Council on December 23, 2016, of Resolution 2334 addressing the situation in Israel and Palestine was, as a symbolic gesture, a game-changing and groundbreaking event. The resolution passed by a vote of 14-0, with the United States abstaining. The U.S. abstention was a break with decades of U.S. policy, which had maintained unwavering defense of Israel against any UN action criticizing Israel, even in the mildest of terms. This break with past actions resulted in cries of outrage from Israeli government officials. While, as I explain below, the major impact was symbolic, there were a number of significant changes in the UN position on the occupied territories as articulated in previous UN actions such the 1967 Resolution 242.

Resolution 242 called for Israel to withdraw from occupied territories and for a just settlement of the refugee problem. It also confirmed “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.” Resolution 2334 went much further by affirming Israel as an occupying power that must abide by the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits movement of population into occupied territories. It condemned measures altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian territories including East Jerusalem. It affirmed that the Israeli settlements on the West Bank and East Jerusalem have no legal validity and constitute a flagrant violation of international law. It also demanded that Israel immediately cease all settlement-building.

The symbolism of this action is also important. The 14-0 vote with one abstention clearly demonstrated how isolated Israel has become in the international community. Substantively, it also tacitly changed U.S. policy from calling settlements “unhelpful” to calling them “illegal,” and from ignoring the issue of East Jerusalem to recognizing East Jerusalem as Palestinian territory. However, from a practical point of view, it will likely have little effect on the situation on the ground.

From the perspective of the Obama administration, this action is too little, too late. Over the past eight years, Obama had numerous opportunities to take this step and, for domestic political reasons, declined. At times he vetoed resolutions that merely affirmed stated U.S. policy. At this late stage, there is no opportunity to follow up with concrete actions. While it is difficult to discern Donald Trump’s positions from his conflicting statements on the campaign trail, his appointments of senior officials indicate that the Trump administration will be more pro-Israel than the Obama administration, and will be unlikely to follow through on the resolution. In fact, his announced intention to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, while a largely symbolic move, if implemented, will likely inflame feelings in the Arab population and increasingly poison the environment.

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If the objective of this resolution was to reinvigorate the “peace process” and bring the parties to the negotiating table on a “two state solution,” this is a road to nowhere. Both sides claim that they do not have a negotiating partner and they are right. The corrupt, unelected, illegitimate Palestinian Authority has no ability to speak for the Palestinian people. The far right Israeli government has no interest in allowing a Palestinian state. Even cursory examination of the map of Palestine, as it currently exists, makes it clear that the creation of a viable Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital would require the relocation of over 500,000 Jewish settlers, many of whom are the most radical religious Jews who believe that God gave them the land. Relocating 8,000 settlers from Gaza almost caused an Israeli civil war. The “two state solution” is a non-starter.

Trying to create two states in these circumstances would bring about the same dynamic that existed at the founding of Israel in 1948. As Jews began to ethnically cleanse the state of Israel of its Arab population, the resulting atrocities inflamed the Arab populations of surrounding states. These states were forced by public pressure to intervene militarily, resulting in the first Arab-Israeli War. Another war would not have a happy ending.

Israel will probably ignore this this resolution, as it has ignored all previous efforts at achieving a settlement. Doing so would be a violation of international law, but, in reality, international law is made and enforced by those with the biggest guns, and Israel and the United States have the biggest guns. If this effort brings about a realization that Israel is faced with a choice of being a democracy for its entire population or being an apartheid state, and that the status quo is untenable in the long run, perhaps everyone can move towards a more realistic assessment of the possibilities.

Live Interview With Stu Taylor

I recently talked with Stu Taylor to discuss my book, Fault Lines: The Layman’s Guide to Understanding America’s Role in the Ever-Changing Middle East, and recent events in the Middle Eastern region and how it is handled by the US.

 

Listen to it right here by pressing play below, or right click on this link and select “Save Link As” to download the MP3.

 

Questions? Followups? Comments? Leave them below. Let’s get another conversation going.

Israel and Palestine: Is There a Way Forward?

Originally published for American Herald Tribune

One thing I learned during my military and business careers was that the first step in solving any problem is to recognize the reality. Wishful thinking is not conducive to solving a problem and has, unfortunately, been the basis for U.S. policies related to the situation in Israel and Palestine for far too long. If any progress is to be made toward solving this intractable problem, a large dose of reality is essential.

So, what is the reality?

  1. Approximately 600,000 Israeli Jews live in the occupied territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
  2. Over one million Palestinian Arabs (Muslim and Christian) live within the borders of Israel defined by the so-called “1967 borders” or “green line.”
  3. With the influx of immigrants to Israel from the former Soviet Union, immigrants with little experience with democracy, the Israeli electorate has become more right wing and this phenomenon is reflected in the Israeli government and its policies. The present Israeli government has shown little or no interest in creating a viable Palestinian state.
  4. The religious parties who believe that God gave them the land of Israel from the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea are crucial to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s governing coalition and thus have power beyond their small numbers.
  5. The Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA) is illegitimate (elections have not been held for 10 years.) and corrupt. It has no credibility with the Palestinian people. However, Israel depends on the PA to maintain security control in the West Bank.
  6. Hamas and Fatah cannot agree on a unity government and a common negotiating position.
  7. Jews and Palestinians each have a national narrative and identity and want their own state. Neither group wants to see a bi-national state as the solution.
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Credit: Brian Holsclaw/ flickr

Despite the policy statements by the U.S. and its western allies calling for a two-state solution, it is evident that a so-called two-state solution is no longer a viable option and hasn’t been for almost two decades. One might be tempted, given the seemingly intractable nature of the situation, to give up and walk away from the problem. Unfortunately, this also is not a viable option. The current stalemate is a major contributing factor to the instability in the Middle East and, therefore, the U.S. has a national interest, beyond the humanitarian concerns, in a peaceful resolution. The status quo is not tenable. Many policy makers have declared the “two-state solution” to be on life support. This is true. The problem is that the patient is brain dead. We need to pull the plug, hold a funeral, go through the mourning process and get on with life. So what does that look like?

Several years ago, when I attended a conference in Jerusalem that included Israelis, Palestinians, as well as internationals, one Israeli panelist commented, “The trouble with you Americans is that you think that every problem has a solution.” If thinking that “every problem has a solution” is a crime, then I plead guilty. The attitude that we are capable of solving our problems is one of the things that makes America great. Despite the obstacles, we can help solve this problem as well. Recognizing that the “two-state solution” is no longer possible, a number of thoughtful analysts on both sides have proposed creative ways to address the issues. Examples are here and here. While I agree with the position that we cannot want a solution more than the parties themselves, we can take steps to make a just and peaceful solution more likely.

By unconditionally funding and supporting both sides of the conflict, the U.S. facilitates risky and unhelpful behavior. Making financial and political support conditional would go a long way toward forcing the parties to face reality and take positive steps toward a solution. Given the political realities in the U.S., making aid to Israel conditional is probably impossible, however, withdrawing aid to the Palestinian Authority would have much the same effect. The PA would collapse and all responsibility for governance and security on the West Bank would fall to the Israeli government, with significant financial consequences. In the short run, an increase in violence is likely, but maybe that’s what it will take to focus everybody’s mind on finding a solution. The alternative is a continuation of violence and death for both Israelis and Palestinians.

Live Interview With KDPI – What News Are You Missing?

I recently sat down with Norm Leopold on Case in Point to discuss Middle Eastern media coverage in the US and the latest events from the region.

Listen to it right here by pressing play below, or right click on this link and select “Save Link As” to download the MP3.

 

Questions? Followups? Comments? Leave them below. Let’s get another conversation going.