As of last week, the White House is facing some backlash from the United Nations - as well as the European Union and the Arab League - in response to President Trump's proposal to pursue single-state policies regarding Israel and Palestine. Per the BBC's report, the State Department and White House are mulling over treating the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a prospect for territorial consolidation, incorporating both the Israeli and Palestinian states into a unitary body. Under this system, a single country of Israel and the occupied territories would exist - with equal rights for both Palestinians and Israelis. Following decades of conflict and disagreements regarding settlements and territorial claim, this pursuit has been largely met with resistance.
A Region Characterized by Social and Political Qualms
As things currently stand, Israel is the world's only Jewish state, bordered to the west by the Mediterranean Sea, and to the east-northeast by Jordan and Syria, respectfully. Jews and Arab Muslims have laid claim to the lands in question for thousands of years, although as Vox writer Zachary Beauchamp noted, the most topical conflict "dates back to the early 20th century." Jewish travelers seeking safety and refuge from persecution in Europe emigrated to the region. Hoping to establish a "national homeland," these Jewish travelers settled in Muslim-majority lands occupied previously by the Ottoman Empire and British Empires. As expected, they have met resistance from those already inhabiting the region, into the present day.
The crescendo of these clashes over territory had been reached twice over the past decade. The first armed conflict in 1948 was a culmination of disagreements between Israel, Egypt, and Jordan; by the time an armistice had been reached, Egypt secured control of the Gaza Strip, leaving Jordan in possession of the West Bank.
The 1967 conflict, reigniting tensions between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors, produced some of the furthest-reaching consequences in terms of Middle-Eastern relations. This period of fighting left Israel in control of both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, two regions home to significant Palestinian populations. The Sinai Peninsula, originally claimed by Israel following the conflict, has since been retaken by Egypt.
As Beauchamp highlights, the West Bank recently has faced something of a unique situation which confounds notions of progress. The region is controlled by the Palestinian Authority, yet is occupied by Israel troops who provide security for Jewish settlers in the region. Furthermore, he states that these armed forces "enforce Israeli security restrictions on Palestinian movement and activities." This de facto Israeli control of the region, despite contradictory political or legal provisions, has fostered a condition of resentment between Israelis and Palestinians.
This issue is compounded by the fact that settlers who move into the region claim land, supported by the backing of their security forces. This land, which rightfully belongs to Palestinians native to the region, is being taken without consent. This does not aid in advancing Israeli-Palestinian relations. Also reflected by the BBC, Israel has granted permission for the construction of thousands of new homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, two swaths of territory at the very heart of the conflict. These settlements are also considered illegal under international law.
Israel disputes this notion, and has continued to push forward nonetheless.
In 2014, these tensions lead to yet another armed conflict, extending into the present day. Peace negotiations between the Israel government and Hamas, the fundamentalist Islamic group controlling the Gaza Strip, broke down. This led to widespread war between these groups, accounting for yet another blemish to the face of Jewish-Muslim relations.
Less is Not Always More: Two States vs. One
For years, the international community (including most notably the European Union, United Nations, and the Arab League, as well as Russia) has favored pursuit of the two-state solution regarding Israel and Palestine. As the BBC reports, this has long been the expressed goal of leadership on both sides, hoping to ultimately quell tensions in the region significantly.
With such a political solution, two independent states would be formed: Palestine, contained within "pre-1967 ceasefire lines in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, living peacefully alongside Israel.
As the BBC elaborates, a one-state solution has been met with resistance from large numbers of Israeli citizens. The solution favors a single country of Israel and the disputed territories, with equal rights for Palestinians and Israelis. This, however, has not been commonly seen as a pathway towards cooperation.
On the heels of a news conference between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Trump, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres reiterated his commitment to the two-state ideology. He also urged his peers in the international community to do the same. It is his belief, and the popular belief of the international community, that there is no other solution. In addition to this, France - a longstanding United States ally - affirmed its belief in the necessity for a two-state solution. French Ambassador to the UN, François Delattre, reported stated that "our commitment to the two-state solution is stronger than ever" - according to the news agency Agence France-Presse.
According to the BBC's report, Netanyahu chose to focus on "substance over labels," and articulated his commitment to a solution that benefits both parties in question. However, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reaffirmed his backing of a independent Palestine.
It has been said that Prime Minister Netanyahu in the past has favored what is dubbed a "state-minus" ideology. With this arrangement, Palestinians will be offered "enhanced self-rule without full statehood," alongside a permanent Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley.
This has been rejected by Abbas and Palestinians accordingly, as it does not offer Palestine either full security or full autonomy for Palestine. Being a population starved of proper international recognition and sovereignty for some time, this is not a viable solution. Additionally, it raises concerns as to whether or not Israel will back out of its commitments in times of conflict, or otherwise.
American-Israeli Relations, and Outside Considerations
Historically, the United States has largely been a pro-Israel entity on the international stage, following a period of disagreement during the Suez War in 1956. Since then, the United States has forged a strong alliance with Israel, which grew in strength during the Cold War era. As illuminated in the Vox piece, the United States viewed Israel - the region's most stable democracy - as a buffer against the advancement of communism in the Middle East. However, "the American-Israeli alliance didn't really cement until around 1973, when American aid helped save Israel from a surprise Arab invasion."
Since that time, new global threats have emerged that fostered strong ties between Israel and the United States. Many say both are united in the fight against Islamic extremism, and many point to democratic governments as a core, common value linking both nations.
Another interesting point of note, proposed by Beauchamp, is that the American public itself has long prioritized the interests of Israel over Palestine. In a poll created by Gallup, analyzing whether the average American's sympathies lie with the Jerusalem or Palestine, or neither/both, the results were telling:
- Respondent trends, from 1988-2013: Growth from 37% Israeli support to 64% public support, respectively
- Respondent trends, from 1988-2013: Reduction from 15% Palestinian support to 12% public support, respectively, peaking at 20% in 2007
As time has elapsed, support for Israel has grown noticeably stronger since 1988, while Palestinian support - already woefully low - has faded slightly over the same 25-year period.
This can be likely be traced back to our political dealings in respect to Israel over the years; while support has waved in some years, there has always been a persistent, upwards trend towards positive public perception. Foreign policy decisions, which are covered exhaustingly in a media landscape accustomed to communicating such policies, have been front and center for decades. Anything we have done overseas has been reported on, in terms of both their merits and shortcomings, and that has not changed. Of course, public perception of government policies are shaped by Middle Eastern political events of the time - especially in times of conflict or instability.
Even President George W. Bush, during a contentious time in the Middle East with the Yasir Arafat regime, recognized that a two-state solution was a gateway to peace - as stated by David Unger in his work, Maps of War, Maps of Peace. Even if the resolution is not perfect, it represents the most significant step towards lessening unrest. Political leadership recently, pointed out both by Vox and the BBC, has been characterized by its more critical stance on Israeli actions since 2008. The presidency of Barack Obama in particular was known for its stances against Israeli settlements and policies regarding Iran. Yet, the two-state solution endured.
Media Reactions and Final Thoughts
In a presidency in its infancy, already characterized by contentious attitudes towards the international community, Donald Trump has chosen to support a solution that does not currently have popular support. Doing so can have some potentially dangerous consequences, especially in terms of the United State's relationship with the Middle East. The BBC reported mixed reactions media reactions in the region. In a pro-Netanyahu publication Yisrael Hayom, Boaz Bismuth noted a "more refreshing era" in washington, proclaiming Trump is "good for the Jews." However, it is interesting to note that many Israelites fear a one-state solution, deeming cohabitation with Palestinians to be dangerous and suicidal.
Both Barack Ravid and Shimon Schiffer, of Ha'aretz and Yedioth Aharonoth respectively, criticized Trump for being both "reckless" and alarmingly indifferent towards an issue that continually shapes Middle Eastern politics. Additionally, the pro-Palestinian newspaper al-Quds has seen the two-state position as weakening, pointing out Trump's Israeli favoritism.
Perhaps most alarming is the Gaza-based, Hamas run Filastin has reported that the United States has finally shown "its true colors." The publication points out that the U.S. is finally acting in a manner that deems it a political enemy, instead of putting up a front of false friendship. They added that "the time for resistance has come."
Based on American history in conjunction with the Middle East, the last thing our country needs is more political or potentially violent turmoil. With relations characterized as hostile towards the Middle East, coupled with a growing ideological divide between the West and the region, this could be damaging. If the United States ever had aspirations to improve relations with Palestinian and other Muslim communities, the two-state solution would be paramount. The United States, according to Vox, invests roughly $3 billion annually in Israeli aid. Israel has been one of our most important allies for years in the region, despite the two-state solution's existence.
Perhaps it is time we become more mindful of Palestinian issues - it can only improve perceptions of American foreign policy internationally. The Administration has expressed interest in relocating the American embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; one major reason it is not currently based there is due to persistent political instability, and clashes of populations. The America-Israel relationship is quite symbiotic; the America-Palestine relationship is not as cordial. Diplomacy, like any negotiation, is contingent on finding some common ground. That is a concept the Oval Office should understand well.