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Volte-face on Israel

February 17, 2017

AS far as President Trump is concerned, America has abandoned the two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli dispute. The diplomatic volte-face is the latest of many egregious missteps by the new administration. Ironically enough, it came in that very White House on whose lawns an American president had put his signature to an international agreement that pledged the superpower to a two-state solution that combined Israel’s security concerns with the Palestinians’ right to a sovereign state of their own. Those who signed that agreement were Palestine’s indefatigable fighter Yasser Arafat, Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin — later murdered by a Jewish fanatic — and the late Israeli statesman Shimon Peres, besides America’s 42nd president Bill Clinton. Signed on Sept 13, 1993, the Declaration of Principles laid down a phased withdrawal of Israeli forces from the occupied territories leading ultimately to the emergence of a sovereign Palestine. It left some issues, including occupied Jerusalem’s final status, to subsequent negotiations, but there is no doubt the DoP was a watershed and committed all parties to a peaceful settlement of the decades old dispute. But on Wednesday, President Trump had no qualms in virtually repudiating the DoP as he entertained Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and enabled him to gloat over his ‘advice’ to the Palestinians to get rid of “the hate they’re taught from a very young age”. The president toyed with the word “one” and said he had looked 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”. Then, somewhat flippantly, he asked Mr Netanyahu to “hold back” on the settlements “a little bit”.

While dwelling on “one”, the president perhaps did not know that the “one-state” idea is also abhorrent to the Israeli far right. Were Tel Aviv to annex the West Bank and Gaza, Israel will lose its Jewish character, given the higher Palestinian birth rate. What suits the Israeli state is an indefinite occupation of the West Bank and Gaza with the country having what Mr Netanyahu called an “overriding security control” over the occupied areas. Trump’s move was denounced by the UN and France, but given the world’s geopolitical power structure, the tottering Arab world, and the Israeli lobby’s hold over America’s policymaking organs, such rhetorical denunciations will do little to address the Palestinian people’s legitimate aspirations.

Published in Dawn, February 17th, 2017