On this one, maybe Trump is not so far off the mark
I acknowledge it’s quite an assumption to make if one reads all the hoo-ha in the Israeli and Arab media over his comments. His exact words were: “I’m looking at two-state and at one-state and I like the one that both parties like.” Only snag is that the parties don’t agree on what they like – and haven’t for years.
But was Trump really so off the mark with his comments? For the past 15 years US policy has been to promote a two-state solution – a Jewish democratic Israel living peacefully alongside a viable successful Palestine.
The feasibility of this as a solution, however, was already being questioned nearly four years ago by then US Secretary of State John Kerry, who said at the time he believed there was only one-and-a-half to two years left to implement it. That deadline has long since passed – and Trump’s comments might just be the next logical step.
For the past decade I have been interviewing Israelis and Palestinians, often about their views on what a sustainable peace would involve. Israelis tell me the two-state failed because the previous American administration tried to pressure Israel to agree to a settlement outside of its interests; that the Palestinian leadership is unwilling to recognise Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and that young Palestinians are brought up to hate Israelis.
Palestinians tell me Washington is a dishonest and flawed broker. They argue that continuous settlement construction has made a Swiss cheese out of Palestinian territory; that the parameters of a future Palestine which Israel insists on defining, are not sustainable given that Israel controls around half of the water aquifers and most fertile land.
Of course there’s the issue of east Jerusalem which Israel refuses to give up and which the Palestinians insist must be part of a future Palestinian state.
And then there’s the question of how you ensure Israeli security. Palestinians worry that a “demilitarised” future Palestine would leave their country defenceless. The most telling comment came from a young Arab university student who told me: “Israel has in reality already created the one-state solution.”
The idea of one-state is not something new. The Israeli far-right has long advocated for it – a vision where both populations are conferred equal rights as citizens of a Greater Israel.
Among those who’d benefit the most are the nearly half a million settlers living in the West Bank and they are more than happy to talk to me about their plans.
The most striking thing about driving into Efrat is how peaceful – and quiet – the streets are. Considered the capital of the Gush Etzion bloc, like all Israeli settlements, Efrat is considered illegal under international law.
Israel of course disputes this. The mayor, Oded Ravivi, an attorney and member of the Likud Central Committee, is the first to admit that Jews might lost their majority in a state where Arabs have equal rights. The Arab birthrate is noticeably higher and absorbing two million Palestinians won’t be easy.
“We are trying to come up with different alternatives that won’t create a status where people don’t have equal rights, but on the other hand preserving the majority of the Jewish people within the Jewish state,” he explains.
Another proponent of the one-state proposal is Israeli-Arab Bassem Eid. An analyst for Israeli TV and radio and former Palestinian human rights activist, Bassem’s career initially focused on human rights violations committed by Israeli armed forces, but he’s since broadened his research to include human rights violations committed by the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian armed forces on their own people.
“I must thank Mr Trump for saying it so clearly. Because there are no politicians today around the world who are speaking straight to the point,” he tells me.
“But you have two different kinds of Palestinians. You have the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority and I think the majority of Palestinians believe that the only thing which might put an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a one-state solution.”
It might at first seem strange that Israeli settlers and Palestinians are on the same page. Settlers who see one state as the fulfilment of their dream to settle the biblical Land of Israel and Palestinians who would prefer all the land belonged to them.
But both have woken up to a reality: the status quo is unsustainable. Many Palestinians are fed up with the occupation and would like the benefits of living under Israeli rule – good education, opportunities, jobs.
Israeli settlers will never get international legitimacy for their enterprise – not that they’re necessarily seeking it – but a one-state option would mean they can settle and build wherever they want to.
But equality for all in such a new state will no doubt prove difficult to implement. It’s not clear how a Jewish democracy would function and many Palestinians would need to give up their dream of a largely homogeneous state for themselves.
No doubt, the road ahead is rocky, but perhaps one thing the sides can agree on – maybe Trump knew exactly what he was talking about.