President Trump wiped away 15 years of U.S. policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during a White House press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday afternoon, explaining his view that statehood for Palestinians is not necessary for peace.
“So I’m looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like,” Trump said as Netanyahu audibly chuckled. “I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I could live with either one. I thought for a while that 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.”
The two-state solution traditionally calls for Israel to withdraw its settlements and military occupation from internationally recognized Palestinian territories and to allow for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel — thus, the two states.
The solution was first endorsed by the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1988 alongside its recognition of the state of Israel; in 2002, Republican President George W. Bush declared that the creation of a Palestinian state was official U.S. policy. Since then, the two-state solution has enjoyed bipartisan support, with President Obama picking up where Bush left off in using negotiations to pressure Israel to withdraw from Palestinian territories.
In the Trump era, that support appears to have ended. Palestinian statehood was dropped from the Republican National Committee’s 2016 presidential platform, and the president’s remarks Wednesday indicate that the United States would support a “peace” that does not include Palestinian independence from occupation — as if such a thing were possible. It also puts the U.S. government at odds with most of the world — such as the 138 countries who voted at the United Nations in 2012 to grant Palestine nonmember observer state status.
Asked about his views on Palestinian statehood, Netanyahu joked that “if you asked five Israelis” what two states would look like, “you’d get 12 different answers.”
He then insisted that he doesn’t want to deal with “labels” but rather “substance” — and that “in any peace agreement Israel must retain the overriding security control over the entire area west of the Jordan River.” This would effectively preclude withdrawing Israeli military from the occupied West Bank — and thus preclude any meaningful two-state solution.
His right-wing Likud Party has long formally opposed Palestinian statehood as a part of its platform. But during the Obama era, the prime minister claimed to support such a state as part of a comprehensive peace deal.
That claim was undermined by Israeli action. Under Netanyahu, the government of Israel allowed the settler population to grow by over 100,000. The pretense was gone during his 2015 re-election campaign, when he vowed that there would be no Palestinian state under his watch.
With the election of Trump he may finally have a president who agrees. “There is no greater supporter of the Jewish people and the Jewish state than President Donald Trump. I think we should put that to rest,” Netanyahu said, ending the press conference.
But if Trump cares about peace, he may do well to listen to the words of his own secretary of defense, Jim Mattis. In 2013, Mattis, who had just recently retired, told attendees at the Aspen Security Forum that the failure to achieve Palestinian statehood would lead to an Israeli state where a minority Jewish population governed a Palestinian population that lacked full rights.
“If I’m in Jerusalem and I put 500 Jewish settlers out here to the east and there’s 10,000 Arab settlers in here, if we draw the border to include them, either it ceases to be a Jewish state or you say the Arabs don’t get to vote — apartheid,” he said. He concluded: “That didn’t work too well the last time I saw that practiced in a county.”
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