Trump is bulldozing hope for two states

Ben Reiff

Just when you think he couldn’t possibly get any more arrogant, ignorant, careless, mindless, insolent, deluded, self-righteous, moronic, reckless, imprudent…

Does he actively try to seek out the most provocative actions? Those with the most people telling him not to do? Just to prove that he doesn’t take orders from anybody?

It’s simply impossible to attribute any rationality to the man, after the leaders of the world have warned him against using Jerusalem as a political chess piece. A city of such historic and legendary significance to Jews, Muslims and Christians, Israelis and Palestinians. A city so volatile and fiercely contested that throughout the last hundred years the tiniest developments have sparked almighty violence and bloodshed. A city that people have died for, and a city that certainly hasn’t seen the last drop of spilled blood.

But for Donaldo it’s just another campaign pledge ticked off the list. Words on a page, not real people who face the very real consequences of his actions 6,000 miles away.

The days following Trump’s announcement have seen clashes erupt across Israel and the Palestinian territories, from Hebron to Ramallah, from Bethlehem to Khan Younis, and from Nazareth to Damascus Gate. Israel has mobilised its troops across the region, and security at American sites has been intensified for fear of targeted retaliatory attacks. There have been rocket attacks from Gaza, and Israeli counter-strikes. Hamas called for an intifada in defence of the freedom of Palestine and Jerusalem, and at the time of writing the Palestinian health ministry is already reporting 300 injuries and three deaths: Mohammed al-Masri, killed on Friday near Khan Younis, and two Hamas members reported killed on Saturday. If anything is inevitable in this Trump-induced crisis, it’s that there will be many more injuries and probably more deaths.

Maybe the embassy will stay where it is. Trump only told the press that he’s instructed the State Department to begin preparations for moving the embassy, which is not to say that the move will actually materialise. But the damage has already been done, and the repercussions will long outlive his presidency.

Israelis know their capital is in Jerusalem, and so does most of the world. The parliament is there, the government offices are there, and international diplomacy takes place there. But the world is happy to comply with the internationally agreed, UN-sanctioned position that Jerusalem is to be negotiated in final status talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The rest of the world has deemed this sensible and appropriate, and so has maintained this status by keeping their embassies in Tel Aviv and reasserting that Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem, and continued expansion of settlements in that side of the city, is illegitimate and illegal under international law.

But to hell with the world, says Donaldo. To hell with the UN. To hell with 70 years of UN resolutions, and 50 years of US policy.

If he’s so eager to make the ultimate deal, to advance the cause of peace, there are plenty of other things he could have done, and statements he could have made. How about condemning violence by Israel and the Palestinians? How about condemning settlement construction and incitement? How about reaffirming America’s commitment to achieving a just and lasting peace in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolutions 181 and 194, and UN Security Council Resolutions 242, 338, and 2334? How about acknowledging that, as well as the true capital of Israel, Jerusalem is also the true capital of Palestine?

He told the media that the US still supports a two-state solution if this is what the Israelis and the Palestinians desire, but his unilateral declaration does nothing to advance a two-state solution. What Trump fails to understand, and what all supporters of two states must understand, is that we have reached a point, with the complete absence of any peace process, whereby any action against a two-state solution serves to advance the wrongheaded cause of one state between the river and the sea. And that is exactly what this has done.

If the state that has assumed the role of peace-maker between Israel and Palestine is making unilateral, partisan moves, then Israelis on the right will take this as a green light to advance their expansionist agenda, which the world will reject and call instead for one democratic state. Palestinians, meanwhile, will read it as the final nail in the coffin of the peace process, and the trigger for the PLO to abandon its two-state position in favour of one state once again. After all, this is what the Palestinians have wanted for the last hundred years; they only gave up on it pragmatically in the hope of achieving their own state and an end to the conflict (and many, indeed, never gave up on it).

The UN Security Council convened an emergency meeting on Friday evening to discuss the situation and how to deal with the aftermath of Trump’s recklessness. I’m all ears as to their suggestions

Confused by Netayahu? Look at Likud

Jonathan Shamir and Aaron Simons

It has now been fourteen years since the Left were exiled to opposition in Israel. Despite the Zionist Union’s hopeful campaign, Netanyahu showed his political experience as he undercut his right-wing coalition partners (Yisrael Beiteinu and Habayit Hayehudi) by pandering to their supporters in the final stretch of the election campaign. The result is the most right-wing government in Israeli history.

Attempting to unpick what Netanyahu actually believes, especially in relation to the Palestinians, is a challenge. He has gone back and forth on the issue of a two-state solution innumerable times.  His 1996 election campaign centred on the backlash to the Oslo accords, whilst the campaign for his second tenure saw him unequivocally advocate a two-state solution. Then just before the 2015 election, he stated in Conservative newspaper Makor Rishon “If I’m elected, there will be no Palestinian State.” He subsequently brushed off this comment as an innocent faux pas after criticism from the international community, and on his recent visit to Britain stated “I am ready to resume direct negotiations with the Palestinians with no conditions whatsoever to enter negotiations, and I’m willing to do so immediately”.

How do we best understand Netanyahu’s continuous reversals? Netanyahu’s ambiguity is partly the product of the political tightrope he has to walk. Bibi must appear to be sufficiently enthused about a two state solution to placate the international community, whilst prevaricating enough to allow his right-wing Greater Israel coalition to believe it won’t actually happen.

However there are deeper reasons behind this apparent inconsistency on the two state solution. The best diagnosis of Netanyahu comes in Foreign Affairs, where Natan Sachs argues this back-and-forth reflects an anti-solutionist strategy, where Netanyahu simply believes there are currently no solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Sachs diagnoses Netanyahu as a strategic conservative, choosing perpetual occupation over any potentially hazardous decisions.

This anti-solutionism is not based on nothing. The current administrative split between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, Abbas’s diminutive mandate, persistent incitement from the Palestinian Administration and Hamas and the current wave of unpredictable violence all feed Netanyahu’s view that a realistic peace is currently impossible. Not that Netanyahu has much room to manoeuvre anyway. Any positive moves towards a two-state solution, such as a repeat of the 2010 settlement freeze, would shatter his fragile coalition.

Yet there is more to Netanyahu than conservative strategy and coalition politics, and this anti-solutionism is not merely a tactical decision. It would be wrong to portray Bibi’s worldview as traditional pessimism resulting from a sober and detached analysis. Netanyahu’s view comes right from the heart of Revisionist Zionism.

Netanyahu may be a political chameleon, but his party is not. Netanyahu’s habitat, the jungle of Israeli Rightist politics, provides the ideological view that shapes Netanyahu’s strategy. Netanyhu’s charisma and the Bibi persona may divert attention away from his party, but it is Likud ideology that holds the key to understanding Bibi.

Likud follows a secular Revisionist Zionism, rooted in the writings of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, which contains three key elements which influence Netanyahu today and produce his anti-solutionist strategy: the Iron Wall, a vision of Greater Israel, and a view of the Palestinians as the implacable enemy.

Jabotinsky’s seminal 1923 essay ‘The Iron Wall’ argued that Zionism would only survive behind a barrier of force – an iron wall. Violence was not only legitimate, but necessary in bringing the Palestinians to a point of desperation at which they would negotiate with the Jewish state. For Netanyahu, it is this idea of necessary violence that justifies continuing the occupation in perpetuity. This is the core of his anti-solutionist strategy.

The concept of ‘Greater Israel’ is prominent in right-wing Israeli politics today, in the form of both secular and religious nationalism. There is very little evidence that Likud MKs believe in a Palestinian state, or oppose settlement expansion. Danny Danon, on the right wing of Likud and the current Israeli envoy to the UN, promotes a three-state solution where Israel’s responsibility towards the Palestinian people is abrogated to Jordan and Egypt. Netanyahu’s anti-solutionism is not just a tactical decision, but one that also follows Likud ideology in allowing for the settlement project to continue. Netanyahu’s calls for Abbas to come to the table with no preconditions ring hollow as settlements are erected in the background.

Most importantly, underpinning Netanyahu’s strategy is his view of the Palestinians as an implacable enemy. This was the core of Jabotinksy’s justification for the Iron Wall – the belief that Palestinians would never accept Zionism. Netanyahu takes this even further: he views the Palestinians as radicalised Jew-haters, meaning that no political agreement can cure the conflict. It is within this mind-set that Netayahu can make the extraordinary claim (which he later retracted) that the Mufti, rather than Hitler, came up with the Final Solution. Anti-solutionism makes sense if you see Palestinians as inherently anti-Semitic.

Sachs is right; Netanyahu is a strategic conservative and anti-solutionist. But he is not devoid of ideology, and we view Netanyahu as a traditional pessimist at our peril. Netanyahu is much more than that. Jabotinsky lives on in Netanyahu today.