Palestinians fear ‘apartheid’ after US backs off two-state solution

Anger at Trump’s shift despite understanding that chances of two states appear dim

'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,' says US president Donald Trump about the idea of Palestine living peacefully alongside Israel. Video: Reuters


Palestinians reacted with anger and bafflement after the Trump administration apparently backed away from insisting that having two states – one for Israelis, one for Palestinians – was the only viable solution to the decades-long Middle East conflict.

Saeb Erekat, chief negotiator for the Palestinians, raised the spectre of “apartheid” and called for “concrete measures in order to save the two-state solution”. A White House official, in remarks to reporters on the eve of President Donald Trump’s meeting with prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu of Israel on Wednesday, said the Trump administration would not push the two-state solution, an apparent retreat from half a century of US policy.

In his news conference with Mr Netanyahu in Washington on Wednesday, Mr Trump directly broke with diplomatic tradition on the issue by saying his concern was the “deal”, not whether that included a state for Palestinians. “I’m looking at two states and one state,” Mr Trump said. “I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one.”

Some Palestinians and Middle East experts reacted with alarm, saying that such a policy change would undercut the chances, already slim, of progress toward reconciliation between the two sides.

“This is going to give Israel a free hand to do what it wants,” said Mosheer Amer, an associate professor at the Islamic University in Gaza City. “At least Obama had some control over Netanyahu.”

Israel captured and occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem 50 years ago, in 1967, and the status of the former Jordanian territories has been a source of conflict ever since. (So has the Gaza Strip, which had formerly been administered by Egypt. ) Many Palestinian leaders, especially those in the West Bank, hold strongly that a two-state solution is the only acceptable resolution of the conflict.

There is also considerable diplomatic weight behind the goal of having two viable states living in peace side by side. In December, with the Obama administration’s tacit support, the United Nations condemned Israeli settlements on occupied land as obstacles to the two-state solution.

But lately the chances of achieving it have been dimming. Many Israelis and Palestinians have begun to doubt whether it is possible or even desirable. Many Israelis argue that the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are too divided among themselves to ever be able to permanently accept two states. Some in the Israeli right advocate annexing all or part of the West Bank, and some rightists warned Mr Netanyahu not to raise the possibility of two states in his meeting with Mr Trump.

At the same time, many Palestinians say the line has already been crossed – that Israeli settlements have already eliminated the possibility of creating a contiguous Palestinian state. Instead, they advocate a single state encompassing both Israel and the occupied territories – a secular state where Palestinians and Israelis would live together with equal rights.

At a news conference on Wednesday in the West Bank, Mr Erekat said the only alternative to what he called Mr Netanyahu’s “apartheid” vision was “one single secular and democratic state with equal rights for everyone, Christians, Muslims and Jews, on all of historic Palestine”.

That is opposed by many Israelis, who want Israel to remain a Jewish state. Some Israelis say that the deep divisions between the Palestinian factions that control the West Bank and Gaza are another reason that it will be impossible to reach an agreement on two states. The Fatah faction in the West Bank has tried to co-operate with the Israeli authorities on some levels, while Hamas, the group that has controlled Gaza since 2007, is more actively hostile to Israel.

Hazim Kassim, a spokesman for Hamas, said on Wednesday, “What Trump said is new, but whatever he says, we in Hamas still believe that resistance is the only way to liberate our lands from the Israeli occupation.

“It is now clear that the US has provided a cover for aggression, occupation and the confiscation of Palestinian land,” he continued. “The US is never serious when it comes to Palestinians’ human rights.”

New York Times