When President Donald Trump met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday afternoon at the White House it was unclear what, if any, official administration policy might develop in Washington on the back of the highly anticipated conversation. Trump’s administration has been nothing if not hostile toward the Muslim World: his ban on immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries (none of which feature in Trump’s global business empire, of course) would seem to place him firmly in Israel’s Likud camp. Their pro-war, pro-occupation policies see military dominance of the more than 4 million Palestinians under their control in the occupied Palestinian territory as the only acceptable way forward in the ongoing regional conflict. Trump’s ban, plus his oft-repeated campaign-trail declaration that he would move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, would surely have to make for cozy bedfellows in Washington this week.
But only a week ago, Trump seemed to distance himself from his overtly pro-Israeli stance stating, albeit meekly, that he did not believe that “advancing [Israeli] settlements is good for peace.” A subtle shift to be sure, but a shift away from Likud and their bombastic leader Netanyahu, nonetheless. A much more substantial—and arguably, a much more confusing—shift came on the eve of the meeting in Washington when a Trump administration officials broke from long-standing U.S. policy in the Middle East by stating flatly that although they were intent on bringing about peace in the Middle East, a peaceful solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict need not result in the creation of two states in the region.
Trump’s seismic departure from decades of stated U.S. intentions in Palestine and Israel naturally begs the question: if not a two-state solution, then what kind of solution does Donald Trump envision?
The reality is that Trump’s ploy might contain within it a glimmer of hope for Palestine. In fact, for many in the academic and activist communities, a one-state solution in Palestine-Israel has long been considered both the most practicable and the most just plan for peace between the two national communities. That plan would include the full enfranchisement of Palestinians currently living under military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, and would ultimately lead to the establishment of a single, representative government managing a binational state entity: a fully-fledged, fully-shared, integrated, and inclusive democracy for all. One man, one woman, one vote.
But the prospect of a single binational state is anathema for Zionists who see within it the abrogation of the Jewish nature of the state of Israel. This solution—the embrace of representative democracy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea—then becomes a demographic contest, one in which current populations, as well as rates of natural increase, favor the Palestinians, not the Israelis.
If this week has, in fact, seen the Trump administration advocate the former, enlightened, and democratic version of the one state solution, then perhaps the “special relationship” between Washington and Tel Aviv is changing before our very eyes. In that event, it is possible that we have completely misapprehended Trump, who publicly and plainly asked Benjamin Netanyahu publicly to stop settlement construction in the West Bank, and his Foreign Policy priorities.
But another possibility remains.
Perhaps the “state” Trump envisions is taken directly from Israel’s far-right playbook, cast unapologetically in the mold of the South African, apartheid model of statehood: permanently separate and decidedly unequal citizenship between different ethnic groups within a shared political space. This nightmarish, authoritarian ideal would force the Palestinians to accept second-class status, to be inferior beings within their national community, and to subvert their national, political goals in favor of the presumably loftier, nobler, and more recognizably European version of nationhood expressed by the Israelis.
This latter version of one state is, in essence, what exists now for Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. As a community, they remain in political liminality, continually and consistently prevented from establishing an autonomous government by the deliberate wheels of the Likudnik approach to the peace process. This approach, championed by Netanyahu himself, has long ago abandoned the idea of enfranchisement for the Palestinians altogether, either within their own state or within a shared political entity with the Israelis. It is possible, then, that the Trump Administration simply plans to remove the “interim” designation for this infrastructure of dominance and allow Netanyahu and his far-right coalition to permanently annex what remains of Historic Palestine over and above international objection, but also, crucially, with the full support of the United States into perpetuity.
Much hangs, then, upon the designation “one state” in the mind of a man who has proven to be anything but of sound mind in these Orwellian days of the new American presidency.