US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a joint press conference at the White House on Wednesday morning, before going into their much-anticipated bilateral meeting.
Asked about whether the US was still wedded to a two-state solution, Trump broke with longstanding orthodoxy.
“I am looking at two states or one state, and I like the one that both parties like,” the president said. On settlements, Trump reaffirmed to Netanyahu, “I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit.”
Advocates of a two-state solution, including the previous US administration and European governments, see it as the only way to rescue Israel as a racist state that ensures its Jewish demographic majority through a battery of racist laws – a situation they refer to as “peace.”
Netanyahu stuck to his usual script. He attacked the Iran nuclear deal and blamed Palestinians for the absence of peace, repeating tired allegations about “incitement” in schools. Capitalizing as he always does on Islamophobia, the Israeli leader declared that the US and Israel were “under attack by one malevolent force, radical Islamic terror.”
Netanyahu would not commit to a two-state solution, saying he didn’t want to focus on “labels.” But the Israeli leader reaffirmed two conditions for “peace”: Palestinians must recognize Israel as a “Jewish state” and Israel “must retain overriding security control over the entire area west of the Jordan River.”
This formula amounts, at best, to a Palestinian bantustan under continued Israeli supremacy.
For most of his opening remarks, Trump appeared to be reading from notes – which may explain why the words he spoke could have been uttered verbatim by his predecessor President Barack Obama.
Trump reaffirmed the “shared values” and “unbreakable bond” of Israel and the US and vowed to oppose “unfair actions” against Israel at the United Nations, “as well as boycotts that target Israel.”
Trump noted that “our security assistance to Israel is currently at an all-time high,” though he did not acknowledge that this was thanks to Obama’s record-breaking $38 billion military aid package.
Trump and Netanyahu also spoke about a vague new concept for a regional approach – Trump called it a “big deal” that would involve Arab states in making peace. This so-called “outside-in” approach is being heavily promoted by Israel lobby groups.
No one should get excited. It’s simply another way to consolidate Israel’s alliance with so-called “Sunni Arab” states led by Saudi Arabia, while generating diplomatic activity to buy time and distract from the core issue: Israel’s adamant refusal to voluntarily end its regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid over Palestinians.
Conventional opinion views any Trump abandonment of the two-state solution as capitulation to Israel’s far right wing that is pressuring Netanyahu from within his coalition to annex the West Bank outright.
The annexationists may hope that the Palestinians could eventually be pushed out, or forced to live under some form of Jordanian jurisdiction – the so-called Jordanian option.
That may even be the motivation of the anti-Palestinian extremists in the Trump administration, but the analysis fails to take into account the growing support amongst Palestinians for a democratic one-state solution.
Trump has at least acknowledged that Palestinians must agree to the terms of any agreement. And Palestinians will not submit voluntarily to Netanyahu’s conditions.
Israel could not just annex the West Bank on its own terms. Pressure would escalate – as it did on South Africa – to end openly declared apartheid. Indeed there could be no greater boost to the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
Even the Israeli president recognizes this. Speaking at a conference on Monday, Reuven Rivlin argued for annexation of the West Bank, but said it must mean full citizenship for Palestinians.
“Applying sovereignty to an area gives citizenship to all those living there,” Rivlin said. “There is no [separate] law for Israelis and for non-Israelis.”
“It must be clear: If we extend sovereignty, the law must apply equally to all,” Rivlin added.
PA needs status quo
On Tuesday night, an unnamed senior US official previewed the shift away from the two-state solution, causing alarm in the Palestinian Authority.
“The Palestinians heard reassuring messages about the two-state solution at the meeting,” Haaretz reported, citing an unnamed Palestinian Authority source. These messages “were not in line with the statement later made by an anonymous White House official,” the paper added.
The Palestinian Authority also reportedly used the occasion to argue for its continued existence as a subcontractor for Israeli and American interests.
“The Americans needed to understand that the collapse of the PA – in such a manner that there will be no way to implement the two-state solution, as quite a few elements in the Netanyahu government are striving for – will lead to the entry of extremist elements, perhaps associated with Iran,” the Palestinian Authority source told Haaretz, recounting arguments used to try to impress the CIA director.
The PA is willing to invoke sectarian conflict in the region for its own self-preservation, placing itself squarely on the side of the burgeoning Israeli-Saudi alliance that aims for greater confrontation with Iran.
No more fig leaf for apartheid
Preserving the illusion of the two-state solution is key to the PA justifying its existence.
But even more so it is a way for Israel’s liberal Zionist supporters to avoid confronting the inherent racism of Israel as a “Jewish state.”
Ironically, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman – a die-hard supporter of the two-state solution – expressed this with the greatest clarity in his column on Tuesday.
“As long as the two-state solution was on the table, the debate among Jews on Israel was ‘right versus left’ and ‘more security versus less security,’” Friedman writes. While there were differences, “we could mostly all agree that for Israel to remain a Jewish democratic state, it had to securely separate from most of the 2.7 million West Bank Palestinians.”
Friedman makes no mention of the two million Palestinians caged in Gaza, let alone those living in refugee camps in the diaspora. But he warns that if the two-state solution is off the table, then the debate “within the Jewish community will move from ‘left versus right’ to ‘right versus wrong.’”
It would become a debate about “whether the state is worth defending in moral terms” – a debate that Friedman must know cannot be won without abandoning any pretense of supporting universal human rights.
This debate is already happening within the Jewish community, albeit along generational lines.
What Friedman surely fears is that the end of the two-state delusion brings into focus the reality that the price of a “Jewish state” is the perpetual violation, frequently in horrific ways, of the rights of millions of Palestinians.
The way out now cannot be clearer: rights for everyone in a unified country.