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.