Trump’s words: ”So I’m looking at two-state and one-state–and I like the one that both parties like. 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.”
What’s going on?
Trump met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today. It’s well known that Netanyahu and former President Barack Obama did not get on well, leaving US-Israeli relations much icier than usual. Trump vowed during his campaign to nurture that alliance and make it stronger than ever. But with statements like the above, as well as a suggestion that he’d like to see Israeli “hold back on settlements for a little bit,” it’s unclear just what Israeli actions Trump would support.
Why is it important?
If your familiarity with the situation in Israel and Palestine is limited, the short story is: Jews and Arabs living on a strip of land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea have contested whose land it really is. When Israel declared itself as a Jewish state, it brought on multiple wars–all of which Israel won, often with help from the US. But Arabs living there were forced from, driven out of, or fled in fear from their homes, creating a refugee population that persists to this day. Now called Palestinians, these are people without a state of their own. No other country will take them, and Israel continues to occupy and control access to what is ostensibly Palestinian territory, and also conducts military operations regardless of the wishes of the official Palestinian government. Palestinians have engaged in paramilitary and terrorist actions, as well–there is simply no trust between the parties, and plenty of animosity to go around. The “settlements” mentioned by Trump are Jewish settlements established on nominally Palestinian land–settlements which no serious observer believes Israel would abandon under any peace agreement, meaning the settlements amount to de facto annexation of land that doesn’t belong to Israel.
The ideal peaceful settlement is one in which both Israel and Palestine exist as independent, sovereign countries that don’t interfere in each other’s affairs–the so-called “two-state solution.” This is expected to involve a fair amount of border redrawing, given how much things have changed since Israel declared independence in 1948. The current reality is nowhere near this type of conclusion. Instead, with Palestinians technically having two opposing and dysfunctional governments–the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and Hamas in the Gaza Strip–and back-and-forth outbursts of violence and abuse, Israel’s technological and strategic advantages allow it to function as a de facto single state with occupied territories that it controls but does not necessarily claim sovereignty over.
I’m sure anyone with intimate knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would take issue of the particulars listed above. I realize it elides a lot of complexity and perhaps doesn’t adequately assign blame to one side or the other. But my intention is to give an even-handed presentation of the situation and to communicate how difficult it is to solve. It should be obvious that Trump’s vague statements and vacillations will only serve to confuse and inflame matters. And to get right down to it, a one-state solution isn’t a solution at all. Regardless of the violence and distrust between Israelis and Palestinians, the latter have a right to self-determination and self-government, and they currently lack it and will continue to lack it so long as negotiations fail to be resumed. Trump has promised new negotiations, so I guess we’ll see what happens.
What can I do?
If your knowledge of this conflict is limited, by all means, educate yourself! This is a topic likely to be important during Trump’s administration, just as it was under past Presidents.
Consider donating to ANERA, which provides humanitarian relief to Palestinian communities and other refugees and impoverished areas in the Middle East.