Following his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Donald Trump declared that the US would no longer insist on a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Decades of US diplomacy were thus cast aside in an instant. “I’m looking at two-state and one-state” formulations, Mr. Trump said during a White House news conference; “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.”
Although Palestinian representative Saeb Erekat was infuriated by Trump’s proclamation, and Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the UN, immediately retracted the statement, averring that Washington “absolutely” supported a two-state solution to the conflict, Trump’s pronouncement can actually be understood as a positive development.
Even though Trump does not appear to support Palestinian statehood or basic Palestinian rights, the abandonment of the two-state paradigm, which has informed years of political negotiations (from the Madrid conference in 1991, through Oslo, Camp David, Taba, and Annapolis), has the potential to bring about a new and long overdue kind of debate in the US and Europe.
On the ground, Israel currently controls the area between the Jordan Valley and the Mediterranean Sea, indicating that de-facto there already is only one state. Moreover, past negotiations based on the two state paradigm have allowed Israel to continue bolstering its hold on Palestinian land, where currently an estimated 600,000 Jewish settlers live. The two-state solution has become no more than a chimera used by Israel to sustain the status quo while fortifying its colonial project. In other words, the so-called two state solution has become an effective tool of domination.
By changing the paradigm, the parameters for discussion will also have to change. If within the two-state framework the major points of contention involve Israel’s full withdrawal to the 1967 border, Jerusalem’s status and division, and the acknowledgement of the right of return of all Palestinians, discussions revolving around the one-state framework will—sooner or later—have to focus on the shift from apartheid to democratization.
Within the area controlled by Israel there are currently two legal systems operating, one for Israeli Jews and Palestinian citizens, and the other for the occupied Palestinian inhabitants. Such a situation, according to any reasonable definition, is apartheid. Consequently, only after the one-state paradigm is accepted will the important questions come to the fore and discussions about how to establish a form of power-sharing governance among Israeli Jews and Palestinians based on the liberal democracy model of the separation of powers finally emerge.
Unlike Jewish Israelis, many Palestinians have already come to realize that even though they are currently under occupation, Israel’s rejectionist stance will unwittingly lead to a bi-national solution. And while Netanyahu is still thousands of miles behind the current juncture, it is high time for an American and European Awakening, one that will force world leaders to support a viable democratic future for the 13 million Jews and Palestinians living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. And while it is extremely unlikely that Trump himself will take the lead in such a move, he has, nonetheless, opened the door precisely to such a development.
Neve Gordon is a Leverhulme Visiting Professor in the Department of Politics and International Studies and the co-author of The Human Right to Dominate.