New US President Donald Trump has already turned many of his country’s policies upside down but his resolve to step back from a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict promises to be a mistake of historic proportions. Following a recent meeting in Washington between Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington, a White House statement said, “A two-state solution that doesn’t bring peace is not a goal that anybody wants to achieve…Peace is the goal, whether it comes in the form of a two-state solution, if that’s what the parties want, or something else.”
While President Trump’s hawkish stance is not a surprise given his campaign rhetoric, it still promises the world many years of turmoil in this volatile region and is a God-sent to radical Muslim groups around the world. To speak of the two-state solution “if that is what the parties want” is to throw away five decades of international diplomatic labour. Soon after the 1967 Six Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbours, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 242 on November 22, 1967. This resolution, which set the tone and direction of all international effort in the last five decades to end the Middle East conflict, called for two states in the disputed region.
Under this formula, the Arabs should recognise Israel’s right to exist while a Palestinian state is to be established on the West Bank of the River Jordan, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. These territories were captured by Israel in the 1967 war along with the Sinai Desert and Golan Heights. While Israel returned Sinai to Egypt under the terms of the 1978 Egypt-Israeli peace treaty, it claimed in 1981 to annex the Golan Heights, an act not recognised by the international community. Israel unilaterally pulled out of Gaza in 2005 due to military pressure from Hamas, though it continues to destabilise it with incursions and bombings.
Israel however maintains a brutal regime of Occupation over the West Bank, which is administered by the Palestinian Authority. That deal was struck by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The Oslo Accords were supposed to be a provisional peace deal which will lead to a final, comprehensive settlement based on the two state solution. Nearly 24 years since then however, the two parties have been unable to reach a final settlement despite the strenuous efforts of, in particular, US President Bill Clinton, who almost succeeded in nudging the two parties into a final deal in 2000AD.
There are several sticking points, including what to do with the millions of Palestinians displaced by the 1948 war and the creation of Israel who have been living in refugee camps in Lebanon, Gaza and scattered around the Middle East since then. However, the final peace deal in 2000AD fell just short over the status of East Jerusalem. While the Palestinians insist on this city as their capital, Israel insists on Jerusalem as its undivided capital. More than that, the issue of Israeli settlement construction on Palestinian land on the West Bank and East Jerusalem has been the greatest threat to peace since Oslo. Relentless Israeli settlement construction promises to make nonsense of the two state solution because in time there will be no land left for a Palestinian state. For Israel too, it is a danger because unless it lets the Palestinians have their own state, it will have a “Jewish state” with millions of second-class non-Jewish citizens in it.
Instead of redoubling efforts to remove this obstacle and work for a final, comprehensive peace, President Donald Trump wants to roll back the clock by stepping away from the two state formula. That is inconsistent with his stated desire to eradicate ISIS because anti-Western feeling in the Muslim world is mostly fuelled by the injustice of Israeli Occupation of Palestine.