Donald Trump tosses away decades of Middle East peace process
President shows alarming lack of nous by dropping US policy on two-state solution
In a single sentence, and without detailed elaboration, Donald Trump has casually discarded decades of US diplomacy – pursued by both Democratic and Republican administrations – on the Middle East peace process.
Standing alongside Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the White House on Wednesday, the US president declared himself unconcerned whether negotiations should be aimed at the two-state solution, which has long been guaranteed by Washington.
Instead, Trump indicated that it would be left to Israelis and Palestinians to sort out the “ultimate deal” he had once promised that he would make.
“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,” he said. “I can live with either one. I thought for a while it looked like the two-state might be the easier of the two. But, honestly, if Bibi [Netanyahu], if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best.”
The president barely mentioned the Palestinians at all, and at times his comments seemed identical to the Israeli government’s talking points: he mentioned the threat of Iran, incitement in Palestinian schools, and the Palestinian need to recognise Israel as a Jewish state.
A little bit
Netanyahu, it seemed, could barely contain his pleasure. In return for a public request to hold back on settlement building “a little bit”, the prime minister was able to hear the Trump commit himself to his own obsession – pushing back Iran – while offering a formulation with the Palestinians that offers little concrete prospect of real negotiations or a lasting peace.
Still, the real substance lay in what the neophyte president did not say, and perhaps does not even understand. Gone was any talk about Palestinian ambitions for a state. Instead, Trump’s remarks reinforced the inherent asymmetry in the two parties’ positions.
Israel is a state with widespread international recognition. It has a powerful military and is a technological power. Crucially, it is the occupier of the Palestinian territories, an occupation now entering its 50th year, which has seen continued Jewish settlement building and settlement announcements: 6,000 since Trump’s inauguration.
With the US withdrawal as a shaping force, the negotiation devolves to a nonprocess between an occupying body that doesn’t really want to end its occupation and an occupied body with little leverage outside of the international support for its cause.
That is not all. In other aspects, Trump’s comments were deeply contradictory, showing an apparent ignorance of the subject he was addressing.
Having said he wanted to leave the negotiations to the two sides, as Israel has long wanted, the president then suggested that many other countries and players could be involved, something that Israel has long and explicitly rejected.
The clear path
Trump’s position appeared to diverge even from that of the pro-Israel US lobby group AIPAC, which says it “strongly supports a two-state solution”, describing it on its website as “the clear path to resolving this generations-old conflict.”
Most serious of all, Trump’s indifference to a one-state or two-state solution demonstrated a shocking lack of understanding of what a one-state solution would entail – not least for Israel as a Jewish democratic state.
Even with Gaza removed from the formula, the demographics mean that in a single unitary state with democratic rights for Jews, Christians and Muslims between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean, Jews in all likelihood will soon be in the minority. In that case, Israel’s character as a Jewish state risks being erased.
The unspoken alternative would be a single state with two systems. Critics, including chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, have said this would be the definition of “apartheid”.