Washington (GPA) – In Trump’s first meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu there was some possible good short term news about curbing settlement activity in Palestine. But then this was followed up by statements that may turn out to be bad news for the Palestinians in the long term.
Trump Changes Tone on Settlements
Trump and Netanyahu touched on several subjects when they addressed the media in a joint press conference yesterday. What seemed like the most surprising position from the White House, even to Netanyahu, came when the US president turned to the Israeli leader and told him “I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit. We’ll work something out, but I would like to see a deal be made.”
Netanyahu replied simply with “let’s try it,” but this is most likely surprising to him since Israel was seemingly emboldened by Trump’s election. It only took Israel a matter of weeks after Trump won the presidency to ramp up their illegal demolition and construction in Palestinian territory.
The Israeli settlements have been a focal point in the conflict between Israel and Palestine for some time now. The land theft – which has been ruled a violation of international law – got so egregious in the last days of the Obama administration that the US delegation to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), in an unprecedented move, abstained from voting on a resolution (allowing it to pass) that called for a halt to Israeli construction. At the time of the UNSC vote Trump was outraged but now it seems his position has at least evolved slightly.
Embassy Move to Jerusalem
Another previous pledge made by Trump seems to have lost some steam yesterday when he backed off of what originally sounded like a complete commitment to moving the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This proposal caused a storm of controversy among opponents of Israel, even causing a rare moment of complete agreement between Hamas and the Palestinian National Authority. Even Chinese President Xi Jinping weighed in on the issue saying the move would be unwise.
The embassy move would be seen as a sign that Washington fully recognizes the Israeli government’s control over Jerusalem, a city that is home to some of the holiest sites in all three major western religions. Control over the holy sites is a long running roadblock in peace negotiations. On top of this, Israel also refers to Jerusalem as their ‘eternal capital’ despite the fact that the eastern part of the city was put under Palestinian control in 1967 and is the desired location of a capital for a future Palestinian state.
An End of the Two State Solution?
The comments at the press conference that caused the most controversy, that may end up being a devastating blow to negotiating long term peace between Israel and Palestine, came when Trump said that he’s not necessarily committed to a two state solution with Palestine. Although the statement wasn’t necessarily hostile to the idea, it does break with a precedent held by all the previous administrations for over 20 years.
However, just because Trump’s statement sounded mostly benign there is a way to read it that would explain why it has a lot of Palestinians concerned. Trump’s exact comments was that he is “looking at two states and one state…and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like.” The concerning part of the statement is that he is basically abdicating the United States’ from its role as negotiator in the conflict.
“To be honest, if Bibi [Mr Netanyahu] and the Palestinians, if Israel and the Palestinians are happy – I’m happy with the one they like the best,” Trump said, which to many people sounded like he was leaving the negotiations up to Palestine and Israel. There is an alarming way to read this, which would imply Trump seemingly putting the responsibility of negotiating with Palestine in the hands of Israel.
Judging by Israel’s recent and current behavior, along with the rise of right wing nationalism, this is likely to end poorly for Palestine. Trump’s statements led to Netanyahu publicly setting “two prerequisites for peace,” one being that “the Palestinians must recognize the Jewish state,” and the second being “that in any peace agreement, Israel must retain the overriding security control over the entire area west of the Jordan River.”
This would be a very different situation if Israel could be trusted to negotiate in good faith. Yet, if the other issues stated above are any indicator, it’s unlikely Israel will try to find a solution that ends up being favorable to Palestine. Although Netanyahu has said he wants to see a two state solution, he has never been in a situation where US leaders weren’t advocating for it. It’s unclear where these developments will lead but if Israel is completely let off the leash, it’s unlikely to be anywhere good.
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Also published on Medium.