The mainstream American media were in full agreement: President Trump’s shift on the two-state solution, as evinced in his remarks last Wednesday during a white House press conference with Benjamin Netanyahu, has upended a long-held position by the US and by the international community.
In its editorial the following day, the Washington Post, for example, did not mince words. President Trump, it opined, has “signaled a dangerous retreat from the Middle East policy that Republican as well as Democratic presidents have pursued for the past two decades ... In fact, by retreating from the two-state formula, the president has made the already slim prospects for an accord even more remote.”
And in its own, the New York Times wrote: “President Trump came forward with a nonsensical statement on Wednesday as he dangerously backed away from the two-state solution, which has been central American Mideast policy for more than 20 years and remains the only just answer to the Israeli Palestinian conflict.”
And the collective response of the international community about the reversal, as verbalized by the UN Secretary General, Antonio Gutteres, was no less vehement in tone, despite its brevity. “There is no alternative to the two-state solution,” he said.
Retrenching on the idea of an independent Palestinian state is, as it were, a shock to the system – especially in the US, a big power that for decades, certainly since the 1969 Rogers Peace Plan, has advanced itself as an “honest broker” of the dispute between Arabs and Israelis.
In Washington, lest we forget, the idea of a two-state solution became official policy when first President Bill Clinton endorsed it in a speech in January 2001, just two weeks before leaving office, where he said that the conflict would never be settled without “a sovereign, viable Palestinian state.”
The vagueness of his remarks suggests that the businessman-turned-president has no inkling about diplomacy, least of all Mideast diplomacy, or about the complexities of the issues at hand in that part of the worldFawaz Turki
His successor, President George W. Bush, picked up on that later that year, cementing it further as official US policy. And finally President Obama made it a bed-rock of America's approach to Mideast peace.
To be sure, it was not altogether clear what President Trump was trying to say during his White House Press conference, with Netanyahu beaming by his side. “So I’m looking at the two-state or the one-state,” he averred. “I was thinking for a while that the two-state looked like the easier of the two ... I’m happy with what the parties like best.” Then he pleaded with the Israeli prime minister to ease up “a bit” on building colonies.
If you can decipher any of these cryptic statements, then you are better at deciphering Trumpian syntax. The vagueness of his remarks suggests that the businessman-turned-president lacks experience in dealing diplomacy and the complexities of the issues at hand in the Middle East.
For his part, Netanyahu has no reason to worry. To know that Washington has taken the idea of a separate Palestinian state off the table is nirvana. Trump’s plea to hold back “a bit” on building new, or expanding old, colonies is a meaningless off-the-cuff request.
And the status quo – a 50-year-old military occupation with carte blanche – is fine by all manner of expansionist, messianic Jews. Indeed, from Israel’s perspective, it would be irrational to change anything at this time because Israel is sitting pretty.
Since 1993, that is, since the signing of the Oslo agreement that year and the establishment soon after that of the Palestinian National Authority the cost of occupation to Israel has been nil in blood and treasure. The occupation, after all, was being funded by others, in this case international donors.
Last week, Nathan Thrall, an analyst at the International Crisis Group, was quoted by the New York Times, as saying: “Israel has a captive market for its goods, it pockets several percent from all of the taxes it collects for the Authority, and the levels of violence since the end of the second intifada have been very low.”
The rabbit and fox proverb
And the lesson learnt from all this? The lesson learnt from all this may be found in a very appropriate French proverb. It says: “If you’re a rabbit, you don’t invite a fox over for dinner”.
This is exactly what PLO leaders did when they went to Oslo in 1993 to sign a historic agreement without a single expert in international law at their side to advise them about its most glaring pitfall – the failure to include a clause there stipulating a block on colony-building or colony expansion while talks were underway.
Now most land in the West Bank is not contiguous, and 85 percent of it in East Jerusalem is under Israeli control. This is a bleak future indeed that will leave Palestinians in the dust – unless they stand up instead of waiting for Godot or for Washington to deliver them from evil.
Fawaz Turki is a Palestinian-American journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington, DC.