Has Trump Killed The Two-State Solution For Israel-Palestine – And What Are The Alternatives?
Donald Trump met with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday. Their body language was extremely warm and Trump ticked all the boxes in terms of pleasing Netanyahu, apart from a fleeting call to pause on the building of illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory. Overall, 'Bibi' – Netanyahu's affectionate nickname which Trump repeatedly used in their post-meeting press conference – will return to Israel pleased with the outcome. Not least, critics would argue, because peace, despite Trump's calls for a 'deal', looks as elusive as ever.
Why are people saying the two-state solution has been abandoned?
In the immediate term, this is because of some bizarre and apparently rather casual comments by Trump in his press conference with Netanyahu yesterday. 'So I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like,' Trump said amid laughter. 'I'm very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one. I thought for a while the two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two. But honestly, if Bibi and if the Palestinians -- if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I'm happy with the one they like the best.'
Secondly, because Netanyahu was very vague about a two-state solution, which is entirely in line with his position over recent years, during which time he alienated the Barack Obama administration which was so much firmer in favour of two states in the region than that, we now know, of Trump. Netanyahu repeatedly referred merely to two 'preconditions to peace': recognition by the Palestinians of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state, and Israel's 'security control of the entire area'. The latter can be interpreted as accepting the status quo, including the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. And the status quo, critics say, is exactly what Netanyahu wants to preserve.
Trump, for his part, repeatedly alluded to a wider and 'more important' plan for peace in the broader region, involving Arab countries. Netanyahu agreed.
Why does this shift matter?
All of this takes the focus away from a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinian territories: in other words, the creation of a Palestinian state.
Yesterday's press conference represents a marked change from US policy since Bill Clinton's presidency which – alongside the UN, EU, Arab League and others – has been to promote the idea of a peace deal involving a Palestinian state.
But a two-state solution is arguably in Israel's interests too: fulfilment of a Palestinian state would surely ensure greater long-term security for Israel.
Further, many say that the demographics of the region mean that Israelis will be crowded out by Palestinians were there to be one state, and those Palestinians would pose a threat to Israel's existence even if they pledge full allegiance to the state in exchange for full democratic rights. Meanwhile, while it is acknowledged by almost all parties that Israel cannot rule the Palestinians forever, the ongoing, expanding settlements mean that the chances of a two-state solution appear to be waning because of the facts on the ground.
So what are the alternatives to two states?
It appears to be increasingly fashionable on both the Israeli right – to which Netanyahu is beholden in his coalition government – and among some in the Palestinian left to advocate a one state, rather than a two state solution.
In a long, important article for the New York Times this week, an Israeli settler based in Hebron, Yishai Fleisher, outlined the alternatives to a two state solution as he saw them, giving voice to the right's position.
'[For] us settlers, the truth is clear: The two-state solution was misconceived, and will never come to pass, because Judea and Samaria belong to the Jewish people,' Fleisher declares. He goes on: '...Arabs can live in Israel, as other minorities do, with personal rights, not national rights.' This, of course, will not satisfy the forces of Palestinian nationalism.
One alternative proposed by the Israeli right can be called 'Jordan is Palestine'. Under this plan, says Fleisher, 'Israel would assert Israeli law in what it calls Judea and Samaria while Arabs living there would have Israeli residency and Jordanian citizenship. Those Arabs would exercise their democratic rights in Jordan, but live as expats with civil rights in Israel.'
Another alternative is that Israel grants Israeli citizenship to its entire Arab population. While some on the right may baulk at the idea, Caroline Glick, a rightwing Jerusalem Post columnist has pointed out that contrary to conventional wisdom, new demographic research shows that because of falling Palestinian birth rates and emigration, alongside a growing Jewish Orthodox population, Israel is not in danger of losing its majority. As Leisher put its, 'a stable Jewish majority of above 60 per cent exists between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean (excluding Gaza); and this is projected to grow to about 70 per cent by 2059.
Alternatively again, some rightwingers advocate a population exchange with Arab countries, and perhaps this is part of what Netanyahu – and maybe even Trump – have in mind when they talk about engaging the wider region.
So where does the Trump-Netanyahu press conference leave the chances of peace?
No one knows, and anyone who says they do is lying. World experts have been left floundering by the shifting position of Trump, who now appears to be backing off the controversial idea of moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
It is of course just possible that on the 'Nixon went to China' maxim, Trump may pull off an elusive 'deal'. But the body language between the president and a prime minister who appears fully committed to the status quo suggests otherwise.