by Ali Abunimah – Electronic Intifada
US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a joint press conference at the White House on Wednesday morning, before going into their much-anticipated bilateral meeting.
Asked about whether the US was still wedded to a two-state solution, Trump broke with longstanding orthodoxy.
“I am looking at two states or one state, and I like the one that both parties like,” the president said. On settlements, Trump reaffirmed to Netanyahu, “I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit.”
Advocates of a two-state solution, including the previous US administration and European governments, see it as the only way to rescue Israel as a racist state that ensures its Jewish demographic majority through a battery of racist laws – a situation they refer to as “peace.”
Netanyahu stuck to his usual script. He attacked the Iran nuclear deal and blamed Palestinians for the absence of peace, repeating tired allegations about “incitement” in schools. Capitalizing as he always does on Islamophobia, the Israeli leader declared that the US and Israel were “under attack by one malevolent force, radical Islamic terror.”
Netanyahu would not commit to a two-state solution, saying he didn’t want to focus on “labels.” But the Israeli leader reaffirmed two conditions for “peace”: Palestinians must recognize Israel as a “Jewish state” and Israel “must retain overriding security control over the entire area west of the Jordan River.”
This formula amounts, at best, to a Palestinian bantustan under continued Israeli supremacy.
For most of his opening remarks, Trump appeared to be reading from notes – which may explain why the words he spoke could have been uttered verbatim by his predecessor President Barack Obama.
Trump reaffirmed the “shared values” and “unbreakable bond” of Israel and the US and vowed to oppose “unfair actions” against Israel at the United Nations, “as well as boycotts that target Israel.”
Trump noted that “our security assistance to Israel is currently at an all-time high,” though he did not acknowledge that this was thanks to Obama’s record-breaking $38 billion military aid package.
Trump and Netanyahu also spoke about a vague new concept for a regional approach – Trump called it a “big deal” that would involve Arab states in making peace. This so-called “outside-in” approach is being heavilypromoted by Israel lobby groups.
No one should get excited. It’s simply another way to consolidate Israel’s alliance with so-called “Sunni Arab” states led by Saudi Arabia, while generating diplomatic activity to buy time and distract from the core issue: Israel’s adamant refusal to voluntarily end its regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid over Palestinians.
Conventional opinion views any Trump abandonment of the two-state solution as capitulation to Israel’s far right wing that is pressuring Netanyahu from within his coalition to annex the West Bank outright.
The annexationists may hope that the Palestinians could eventually be pushed out, or forced to live under some form of Jordanian jurisdiction – the so-called Jordanian option.
That may even be the motivation of the anti-Palestinian extremists in the Trump administration, but the analysis fails to take into account the growing support amongst Palestinians for a democratic one-state solution.
Trump has at least acknowledged that Palestinians must agree to the terms of any agreement. And Palestinians will not submit voluntarily to Netanyahu’s conditions.
Israel could not just annex the West Bank on its own terms. Pressure would escalate – as it did on South Africa – to end openly declared apartheid. Indeed there could be no greater boost to the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
Even the Israeli president recognizes this. Speaking at a conference on Monday, Reuven Rivlin argued for annexation of the West Bank, but said it must mean full citizenship for Palestinians.
“Applying sovereignty to an area gives citizenship to all those living there,” Rivlin said. “There is no [separate] law for Israelis and for non-Israelis.”
“It must be clear: If we extend sovereignty, the law must apply equally to all,” Rivlin added.
PA needs status quo
On Tuesday night, an unnamed senior US official previewed the shift away from the two-state solution, causing alarm in the Palestinian Authority.
“The Palestinians heard reassuring messages about the two-state solution at the meeting,” the Haaretz reported, citing an unnamed Palestinian Authority source. These messages “were not in line with the statement later made by an anonymous White House official,” the paper added.
The Palestinian Authority also reportedly used the occasion to argue for its continued existence as a subcontrator for Israeli and American interests.
“The Americans needed to understand that the collapse of the PA – in such a manner that there will be no way to implement the two-state solution, as quite a few elements in the Netanyahu government are striving for – will lead to the entry of extremist elements, perhaps associated with Iran,” the Palestinian Authority source told Haaretz, recounting arguments used to try to impress the CIA director.
The PA is willing to invoke sectarian conflict in the region for its own self-preservation, placing itself squarely on the side of the burgeoning Israeli-Saudi alliance that aims for greater confrontation with Iran.
No more fig leaf for apartheid
Preserving the illusion of the two-state solution is key to the PA justifying its existence.
But even more so it is a way for Israel’s liberal Zionist supporters to avoid confronting the inherent racism of Israel as a “Jewish state.”
Ironically, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman – a die-hard supporter of the two-state solution – expressed this with the greatest clarity in his column on Tuesday.
“As long as the two-state solution was on the table, the debate among Jews on Israel was ‘right versus left’ and ‘more security versus less security,’” Friedman writes. While there were differences, “we could mostly all agree that for Israel to remain a Jewish democratic state, it had to securely separate from most of the 2.7 million West Bank Palestinians.”
Friedman makes no mention of the two million Palestinians caged in Gaza, let alone those living in refugee camps in the diaspora. But he warns that if the two-state solution is off the table, then the debate “within the Jewish community will move from ‘left versus right’ to ‘right versus wrong.’”
It would become a debate about “whether the state is worth defending in moral terms” – a debate that Friedman must know cannot be won without abandoning any pretense of supporting universal human rights.
This debate is already happening within the Jewish community, albeit along generational lines.
What Friedman surely fears is that the end of the two-state delusion brings into focus the reality that the price of a “Jewish state” is the perpetual violation, frequently in horrific ways, of the rights of millions of Palestinians.
The way out now cannot be clearer: rights for everyone in a unified country.
Next Article on the Meeting
by Zaid Jilani at The Intercept
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.”
Think things are bad for Palestinians right now? Wait until Trump and Netanyahu cosy up together
When President Donald Trump receives his most ardent fan, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the White House later today, many Palestinians will be deeply worried. Israel’s far-right government hopes to obtain – in return for its passionate embrace of Trump – an explicit US green light to build more settlements.
“If they are bulldozing entire Palestinian communities in Israel even before this meeting,” a Bedouin-Palestinian colleague recently asked me, “what should we expect after the meeting?”
She was referring to Israel’s recent destruction of most of Umm al-Hiran – a Bedouin village in the Negev whose residents are Palestinian citizens of Israel – to establish a Jewish only settlement on its ruins. Israeli forces gave Palestinian families barely any notice to gather their furniture, photos, books, or children’s toys before bulldozing their homes and livelihoods.
Far from being an exception, Umm al-Hiran is the norm. Since Trump’s rise to power, Israel’s government has been drunk with power and impunity. It has dropped its thin mask of supporting the so called two state solution, moving at a dizzying speed to build as many settlements as possible in the occupied Palestinian territory.
Israel’s Minister of Education Naftali Bennett declared Trump’s victory “a tremendous opportunity for Israel” to announce that “the era of the Palestinian state is over.” On the ground, Israel’s parliament has not only ignored the recent UN resolution that reiterates the flagrant illegality of all Israeli settlements; it just passed a law to retroactively legalize settlements built on confiscated, privately owned Palestinian land.
US Senator Dianne Feinstein, a staunch supporter of Israel, has denounced this law as a “brutal” land grab, while the Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has warned that it could make Israel “be seen as an apartheid state”.
I do not take lightly the prospect of Israel’s shift to an even more extreme, irrational right, in tandem with Trump. As a human rights defender, I have faced an Israeli travel ban and the threat of “targeted civil elimination” – a euphemism for civil assassination – for my role in the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Israel’s repression of and lawfare against our nonviolent movement will get much uglier in the Trump era.
The serious challenges we face are intertwined. Trump and his team have used Israel’s discriminatory laws and policies to justify his own wall, anti-immigrant and anti-refugee fervor, and ethnic profiling in the US.
Netanyahu has endorsed Trump’s plans to build an even larger wall on the border with Mexico and bragged how Israel’s own wall, declared illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004 for being largely built on occupied Palestinian land, was a great success. Mexico and immigrant communities in the US have unsurprisingly not taken that well.
Yet, just as Americans are using the time-honored tactic of boycott to oppose Trump’s racist agenda – with artists and members of Congress boycotting his inauguration and consumers pressuring department stores to drop Ivanka Trump’s fashion line – Palestinians and our supporters around the world will continue to use these same tactics to pressure Israel to end its denial of Palestinian human rights.
In fact, four prominent NFL players – Michael Bennett of the Seattle Seahawks, Kenny Stills of the Miami Dolphins, Justin Forsett of the Denver Broncos, and Martellus Bennett of the New England Patriots – have opted against an Israeli government sponsored propaganda trip, with some explicitly refusing to be “used” to whitewash Israel’s system of injustice.
Already in 2014, a poll showed that almost half of non-Orthodox Jewish-American men under 40 support boycotting Israel to end its occupation. According to a late 2016 Brookings Institution survey, 46 per cent of Americans, and 60 per cent of Democrats, support imposing sanctions or taking tougher measures against Israel to stop its illegal settlements.
And this is only the beginning. As Israel becomes more openly associated with the rising far-right around the world, particularly in the United States and Europe, and as it is more widely considered to be among the “belligerently intolerant, faith-driven ethno-states,” more people, grassroots movements, and progressive institutions will feel the moral imperative to join in efforts like BDS as the most effective form of solidarity with Palestinian rights and as one of the facets of the growing global resistance to the far-right.
Omar Barghouti is a Palestinian human rights defender and co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights. He is a founder of the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), the largest coalition in Palestinian civil society.