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Trump administration reversal on settlements crystalizes a longstanding call from Israel

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This week the Trump administration unilaterally decided that West Bank settlements are no longer illegal, making a sovereign Palestinian state less likely and bringing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict one step closer to a one-state solution. This presents a challenge to advocates of a two-state solution because it is now abundantly clear that the two most powerful and influential proponents of a single state are the Israeli government and its supporters in the Trump administration. The one-state reality they are creating, though, is not a binational state founded on ethnic and religious equality, but rather an apartheid state that denies basic political and human rights to the Palestinians who constitute roughly half the population living under Israeli rule.

Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza during the 1967 war and has never really supported turning the occupied land into a sovereign Palestinian state. Soon after the West Bank and Gaza were occupied in 1967, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol spoke at a security cabinet meeting not about Palestinian sovereignty, but about encouraging mass emigration by cutting off resources: “…precisely because of the suffocation and imprisonment there, maybe the Arabs will move from the Gaza Strip.” Those who remained, he mused, might be encouraged to emigrate: “Perhaps if we don’t give them enough water they won’t have a choice, because the orchards will yellow and wither.”

Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who negotiated the Camp David Accords in 1978, was staunchly opposed to a Palestinian state. In a 1979 speech before the Knesset, Prime Minister Begin firmly declared, “… in Judea, Samaria and Gaza there will never be a Palestinian state.” “We never agreed to autonomy for the territories,” he continued, “but only for the inhabitants.”

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who negotiated the Oslo Accords that created the Palestinian Authority, would also reassure the Knesset in 1995 that the Palestinian Authority would not be a sovereign state: “We would like [the PA] to be an entity which is less than a state, and which will independently run the lives of the Palestinians under its authority…The security border of the State of Israel will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of that term.”

Soon after his speech, Prime Minister Rabin was killed by a right-wing Israeli who opposed even limited self-rule for Palestinians. The right-wing Likud Party came to power after the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin and shifted the Israeli government even further to the Right.  In 2017 Likud party officials held a vote in which party leaders affirmed their total opposition to a Palestinian state anywhere between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. 

Today Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Party is hailed as the more liberal alternative to Likud. In its platform, though, the party does not support Palestinian sovereignty or a two-state solution. When Prime Minister Netanyahu declared his intention to formally annex the Jordan Valley, Blue and White accused Netanyahu of copying their plan: “Blue and White has declared that the Jordan Valley will be part of Israel forever. It was Netanyahu who concocted a plan to surrender the Jordan Valley in [peace talks in] 2014.”  Indeed since 1967 the Israeli government has maintained a remarkably consistent policy position: the land between the River and the Sea belongs to Israel, and only to Israel.

In the United States, though, many still speak of a two-state solution but with no plan for how that goal might be achieved. As the Israeli government, with the full backing and support of the Trump administration, forcefully and determinedly pushes toward a single state, a tiny handful of American politicians have tentatively suggested that conditioning military aid might encourage the Israeli government to reverse a course it has set and maintained for half a century. Others admonish those politicians for being too harsh, believing that unconditional financial support will somehow encourage the Israeli government to grant the Palestinians a sovereign state.

Supporters of a two-state solution also seem unaware of what their policy would actually entail. Today there are almost 620,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank. A truly viable Palestinian state will require not just stopping settlement construction, but reversing it by uprooting tens of thousands of settlers from their homes and communities. While supporters of a two-state solution hope the transfer will take place peacefully, the sad history of population transfer instead suggests uprooting the settlements will be ugly, painful, and another grim human tragedy.

The two-state solution therefore consists of little more than empty words and wishful thinking.  Proponents of the two-state solution offer no concrete plan to achieve their goal, instead engaging in a great deal of hand-waving over its most critical details.  Meanwhile the Israeli government is furiously building even more settlements in the West Bank as it firmly and determinedly pushes for a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Supporters of a two-state solution, if they are to be taken seriously, must come up with an actual plan to encourage the Israeli government to reverse the course it has pursued and maintained for the last half-century.  That plan will have to include many carrots as well as some heavy sticks. If supporters of a two-state solution are unable or unwilling to come up with a plan then Israel, with the full support and encouragement of the Trump administration, will very soon have the distinction of being not just the world’s only Jewish state, but the world’s only apartheid state as well.

Sheena Anne Arackal

Sheena Anne Arackal holds a master’s degree from the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago, and a doctorate in political science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Now based in Houston, Texas, she specializes in the field of ethnic conflict.

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3 Responses

  1. Mooser on November 22, 2019, 12:26 pm

    “believing that unconditional financial support will somehow encourage the Israeli government to grant the Palestinians a sovereign state.”

    An Israeli protection racket. And the price will just keep going up.

  2. Misterioso on November 23, 2019, 2:37 pm

    Given the U.S.’s illegal reversal of hard won international law at Israel’s behest (e.g., the UN Charter, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Fourth Geneva Convention, binding on all UN members) it is only fitting and proper that both countries are expelled from the U.N. or at the very least, have their memberships suspended.

  3. Misterioso on November 23, 2019, 2:53 pm

    Words of wisdom:

    “Waging War Against the Rule of Law—An Analysis” (21 November 2019) by Professor Lawrence Davidson

    “Part I—An Embarrassingly Hard Moment

    “There is no doubt about it: at our present moment in history it is embarrassingly hard to be a defender of the rule of law. This is particularly so when such laws seek to assert and protect human rights. It is embarrassing because being supportive of such regulations should be a ‘no-brainer.’ Instead, it pits you against the U.S. government and its closest ally, Israel.

    “Thus, there is the fact that while there are many countries that take no heed of international law in this regard, if you happen to be an outspoken humanitarian Jewish American, you are really going to have a tough time of it. You are assailed on one side by powerful American leaders who attack international law with manifestly faulty reasoning (see below). On the other side, one is confronted by Zionist Jews, both inside and outside of Israel, who would destroy not only the international law that stands in the way of their territorial greed, but the ethical and moral integrity of the Jewish people as well. For all those Jewish Americans who see value in defending human rights and the rule of law, I truly commiserate: it is not easy being us!

    “Part II—Assaulting the Rule of Law

    “In its latest assault on the rule of law, the Trump administration has declared that the Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories are legitimate. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a self-described advocate of “Christian diplomacy” has led the way in this. He stated that: “After carefully studying all sides of the legal debate, this administration agrees with President Reagan [who, back in 1980, expressed a similar sentiment]. The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not per se inconsistent with international law.”

    “No details were given on the ‘careful study’ Pompeo claims to have been made. And, frankly, it is hard to take this assertion seriously because the Trump folks are not known to be objective, or even attentive, when it comes to detail. No information was given on what basis Ronald Reagan came to his opinion. Nor is it known whether or not Reagan was senile at the time he spoke. And, no elaboration was made as to what ‘per se’ means in the context of Pompeo’s declaration.

    “The Secretary of State went on: ‘The hard truth is that there will never be a judicial resolution to the conflict, and arguments about who is right and who is wrong as a matter of international law will not bring peace. This is a complex political problem that can only be solved by negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.”

    “This bit of conjecture is dubious at best, and if such conclusions are the product of the Secretary’s ‘careful study,’ we can conclude that Pompeo is either being disingenuous or is ignorant to the point of incompetence. Here is what I mean:

    “—The conclusion that ‘there will never be a judicial resolution to the conflict’ is a contrived one. Pompeo should certainly know that there are readily discernible reasons, most of them coming from the U.S.-Israeli side, why attempts to apply international law as the basis of a settlement have so far failed. Actually, there are at least forty three reasons—that is the number of vetoes the United States has cast in the UN Security Council to protect Israel, largely from international law, between 1972 and 2017. In addition, one should never say ‘never.’

    —”The assertion that ‘arguments about who is right and who is wrong as a matter of international law will not bring peace’ is also contrived. Again, you cannot acquiesce in seventy-one years of Israeli behavior, much of it in violation of international law, all the while protecting, as most U.S. governments have done, the criminal party, and then say ‘international law will not bring peace.’ Obviously, the historical context means nothing to Pompeo.

    —”Pompeo’s final conclusion that ‘this is a complex political problem that can only be solved by negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians’ is simply a throwaway line that has no meaning given the history of those ‘negotiations’ that have been attempted.

    “Part III—Accepting ‘Reality’

    “Perhaps the most egregious assertion made by Secretary Pompeo was that all the U.S. is doing is ‘recognizing the reality on the ground.’ This same excuse was used by the Trump administration when it blessed the occupation of the Golan Heights. Subsequently, some people assigned to the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem have claimed that all Trump was doing was recognizing the ‘truth.’

    “These claims oversimplify and distort the current situation to the point of absurdity. Mr. Pompeo and those folks at the embassy are not dabbling in some field of physics here. They have not come along and discovered a new naturally occurring phenomenon. The fact is that in our social, economic and political worlds we humans do not discover reality, we create our own constantly fluctuating ‘reality.’ And, as touched on above, today’s variation on fluctuating ‘reality’ in places like Gaza, Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, and the West Bank are the result of Israeli actions that defy international law. That makes those acts and their consequences—their ‘reality’ —by definition, criminal. At the same time, as we have seen, the folks in Washington gave the necessary assistance that allowed the Israelis to get away with their criminal behavior. That makes the people in Washington who provided this cover, criminals as well.

    “Part IV—Conclusion

    “So what we have here is the Secretary of State of a country that has acted as an accomplice to years of illicit behavior throwing up his hands and saying ‘the law has failed’ —while not mentioning the fact that he and others before him, acting in their official government capacities, helped to arrange that outcome.

    “This bit of sleight of hand was no doubt made easier for Mike Pompeo given that he has ridden the coattails of a boss who is himself lawless. That fast-and-loose attitude toward the rule of law is a main reason Donald Trump is going to be impeached.

    “Despite all, the struggle of the Palestinians and their allies will go on. Applying the appropriate biblical comparisons, the BDS movement (the boycott of Israel) has become the ‘light unto the nations’ that Israel itself was mythically supposed to be. And outspoken anti-Zionist Jews, like some of those Old Testament prophets, are now the last bastion against Israel’s racist idolatry.”

    Lawrence Davidson
    [email protected]


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