HE might as well have been singing the children’s song: “One potato, two potato.” Speaking in near riddles during another toe curling press conference this week, Donald Trump’s inability to convey any understanding of the Israel-Palestine issue, let alone realise the vacuity of what he was proposing, beggared belief.
“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,” Mr Trump said elliptically. “I can live with either one.”
Perhaps he can live with either solution, working on the assumption, of course, that he understands what each is to begin with. That, however, doesn’t mean to say the Israelis or Palestinians can do the same. If history has taught us anything as to this seemingly intractable Middle East problem it’s that much.
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To begin with, absent from Mr Trump’s remarks was any mention of Palestinians’ ambitions for their own state. Absent, too, was that perennial issue of Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, an occupation that of late has only intensified.
Indeed, since Mr Trump’s inauguration, the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has approved 6,000 new homes in existing Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Recently the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, passed a law to retroactively legalise settlements built on confiscated, privately owned Palestinian land. Also, Mr Trump’s proposed new ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is president of the American Friends of Beit El Yeshiva association. Israel’s settlers could not wish for a more sympathetic envoy or a more sympathetic president.
Indeed, as Mr Trump came to power, several significant plans for building and expanding Jewish settlement schemes beyond the Green Line, in and near Jerusalem, were already primed to be implemented by the government.
Little of this was made widely public, given that it might have added to the theory that some deal between Mr Trump and Mr Netanyahu was already on the cards, effectively putting the kibosh on a two-state option.
These plans and their more widespread disclosure were highlighted by Ir Amim or “City of Nations”, a respected Israel-based non-government organisation whose mission, as I have seen first hand, is to render Jerusalem a more equitable and sustainable city for Israelis and Palestinians alike.
According to Ir Amim the plans would effectively eliminate any options for a two-state solution, for a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem, or for retaining Palestinian continuity between the city and the West Bank.
The plans would, in effect, obstruct a two-state option by cutting into the territorial contiguity of Palestinian areas. This process is not restricted to areas around Jerusalem. Every day there are new, expanding settlements that encroach on Palestinians land across the region
In the dusty valley of Umm al-Hiran village in the Negev desert, whose residents are Palestinian citizens of Israel, families were given barely any notice recently to gather their belongings before Israeli bulldozers levelled their homes and livelihoods to make way for a town for Israeli Jews. Elsewhere it’s the same story. This is the inescapable reality of what is happening.
Not all supporters of Israel, or indeed Israelis themselves, approve. US Senator Dianne Feinstein, known for being a supporter of Israel, has denounced the recent settlement 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”.
If long before Mr Trump became US president the chances of peace were thin, they are thinner now. Throughout this time Mr Netanyahu has paid lip service to the idea of a two-state solution.
Only recently Mr Netanyahu reiterated his opposition to supporting a full Palestinian state, insisting instead on a “state-minus”. Whatever this implies, it’s a fair guess the Palestinians will not come out of it well. With the coming together this week of Mr Netanyahu and Mr Trump we are beginning to see the extent to which many of the aforementioned plans are being fully implemented.
Given this, it’s more imperative than ever that the two-state option is not consigned to oblivion. Members of the European Parliament, who recently visited the Palestinian territories, have put the danger of this happening into context.
“Hopes for the two-state solution in the Middle East have started to diminish,” said Elmar Brok MEP, of the European People’s Party Group, warning of a “new apartheid” in the Middle East. Such warnings mean little to Mr Netanyahu and Trump.
While Mr Trump appeared the laid-back deal maker at the joint press conference in Washington, you couldn’t but feel that, behind the occasionally tense exchanges, these two men have been on the same page for some time, regardless of the preferred option. Whether it is a one-state or two-state option, both proposals have supporters and detractors on either side of the divide. There are questions, too, as to what each means and involves.
Might one-state mean a single, secular and democratic state with equal rights for everyone – Christians, Muslims, and Jews – on all of historic Palestine? Or, would it mean one state and two systems, effectively an apartheid state of the kind MEP Elmar Brok warned about, the reinforcement of which many critics say has been Mr Netanyahu’s aim for some time?
That the increasingly powerless and sometimes rudderless Palestinian leaders are able to make their case eloquently, forcefully and diplomatically is even more deserving of international support.
Mr Trump has called peace between Israel and Palestine the “ultimate deal” and has asked his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to work on it. Given the apparent abandonment of a two-state option it’s going to take a lot more than Mr Kushner to put any meaningful peace talks and proposals back on track.
In Israel the appetite for peace continues to be constrained by fear and among Palestinians by division, frustration and isolation.
The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories is entering its 50th year. Until that very issue, the occupation, is addressed, peace will remain as elusive as ever.