If it was not understood before Donald Trump’s election, it is certainly the case today that there is a high price to pay for the failure over the past decades to establish a “two-state” diplomatic agreement enabling the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The reckless new US president has many faults, but responsibility for the failure to solve the conflict between the Arabs and Israel on this basis is not one of them … at least not yet.
Everyone is huffing and puffing about Trump’s breezy dismissal of the two-state solution during the recent visit to Washington of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But only last summer the Republican Party adopted an election platform that, unlike recent predecessors, pointedly failed to endorse a two-state solution, and deferred to Israel on the parameters of an agreement.
Trump’s comments are the consequence, not the source of the problems that have enfeebled the two-state option. Such disenchantment is the price we all are paying for the failure to leverage unprecedented support for such an outcome with a forceful international commitment to realise it on the ground.
From the breathless critical commentary surrounding Trump’s manifest disinterest in the shape of a solution to the conflict, one would think that everyone has always supported the creation of a Palestinian state on territories occupied by Israel in June 1967. Nothing could be further from the truth.
It took more than three decades to forge an international consensus in favour of a Palestinian state. Never forget the famous and always stillborn Jordanian option floated from time to time by various Israeli leaders, often with American support. Or the unitary Palestinian solution still formally embraced by Hamas but originated by the young Palestinian Liberation Organsation’s support for a democratic secular state in all of Palestine. Or Menachem Begin’s “autonomy for the people but not the land” that presaged the Oslo agreements.
Each of these options claimed the attention of its supporters. Some retain a powerful allegiance to this day. Why should the stillborn two-state option, which has long dominated the peace process agenda to no result, except to entrench occupation, enjoy a shelf-life any longer than these?
No framework for diplomacy
For the first time since 1967, the diplomatic environment inherited by Trump is barren of any framework for diplomacy.
Despair at the prospect of an agreement or even how to structure a diplomatic effort is Barack Obama’s sad legacy.
It is often forgotten that the “peace process” has not scored any achievement since 1996, with the troubled agreement on Hebron and some minor additions called for in Oslo.
The only deals made between Israel and the Palestinians in the past two decades have been outside the Oslo framework – and Israel’s partner on this track is Hamas, not Fatah/PLO.
Trump is also treading a well-worn path by his declared readiness to bless whatever agreement the parties themselves conclude.
The United States has always prided itself on being an “honest broker”. Whether it deserves the description is another matter entirely. But the year 2000’s Clinton Parameters are the closest Washington has ever come to presenting for consideration its own a map dividing the land (PDF).
That moment passed without consequence upon Clinton’s departure soon after. Nothing that has occurred since then during the George W Bush or Obama years has come close to emulating this short-lived, last-minute example.
or any Israeli leader wants is US support for a democratic state in Palestine in which Muslims and Jews are close to parity.”]
Long before Trump promised Israel a veto over the pace and direction of diplomacy, Democrat and Republican alike ran fast and far from anything that hinted at an imposed solution of any shape. In a speech last November summing up his failed diplomatic effort, former US Secretary of State John Kerry observed: “[T]he old saying is real: You can lead a horse to water, you can’t make him drink. If they’re not prepared to take the risks – everybody knows what has to be done – but if they’re not ready, then there’s no way to force-feed it.”
How is this materially different from Trump’s view that: “It is the parties themselves who must directly negotiate such an agreement. We’ll be beside them; we’ll be working with them.”
It is almost certainly the case that Trump’s off-the-cuff comments at his press conference with Netanyahu were not the result of any staff work worth the description.
Netanyahu in a bind
Nevertheless ,Trump’s surprise decision – what other kind of decisions does the new president make? – to raise the profile, if not the details, of a one-state solution, put Netanyahu in a bind.
Israel long ago annexed East Jerusalem in 1967 and the Golan Heights in 1981, and in their meeting Netanyahu asked Trump to recognise these actions.
But the Israeli prime minister has no interest in conferring citizenship on two million West Bank Palestinians to the Jewish State, let alone those trapped in Gaza.
The last thing he or any Israeli leader wants is US support for a democratic state in Palestine in which Muslims and Jews are close to parity. Does anyone believe that Israel would choose such an option or that Trump or any American administration would impose it?
Netanyahu can live well with US support for two states. Indeed if the international community has to embrace a framework for peace, he could not do much better than the system created by Oslo more than two decades ago, improved by the much-discussed “outside-in” effort to engage the Arabs in a diplomatic merry-go-round.
“The great opportunity for peace”, Netanyahu now explains, is not based upon bilateral direct talks that have been the core Israeli demand for decades, but a long-disdained “regional approach [from] involving our newfound Arab partners in the pursuit of a broader peace and peace with the Palestinians.”
He knows better than anyone that a US surrender of the two-state option opens up a radioactive one-state option. More of the same works far better for Israel.
The fact of the matter is that Israel has ruled the West Bank and Jerusalem as the de facto sovereign for almost half a century, exploiting the areas’ advantages as its own and settling hundreds of thousands of its own citizens.
As Moshe Dayan, the former Israeli foreign secretary, presciently observed almost half a century ago, the challenge facing Israel is not to reach a solution to the occupation but to learn to live, and prosper, without one.
Geoffrey Aronson writes about Middle Eastern affairs. He consults with a variety of public and private institutions dealing with regional political, security, and development issues.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.