Trump wings it on Middle East peace

If he wants a regional deal, there has been one on offer for 15 years

 

High quality global journalism requires investment. Please share this article with others using the link below, do not cut & paste the article. See our T&Cs and Copyright Policy for more detail. Email ftsales.support@ft.com to buy additional rights.
https://www.ft.com/content/bde2b13a-f53b-11e6-95ee-f14e55513608

The casual way Donald Trump set aside two decades of US and international policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as so often with this president, raised more questions than it answers. His announcement he was “looking at two-state and one-state” solutions startled even Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister and a fan.

High quality global journalism requires investment. Please share this article with others using the link below, do not cut & paste the article. See our T&Cs and Copyright Policy for more detail. Email ftsales.support@ft.com to buy additional rights.
https://www.ft.com/content/bde2b13a-f53b-11e6-95ee-f14e55513608

Mr Trump spoke of a “much bigger deal” that could “take in many countries and would cover a much larger territory”, suggesting he wants a region-wide formula to replace the quest for two states. Talks to end Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem, captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, and create an independent Palestine living alongside a secure Israel, have so often tantalised only to disappoint. The Trump White House is now floating a so-called “outside-in” solution. Instead of “inside-out” — whereby Israel reaches a deal with the Palestinians as the precondition and springboard to peace with all Arab states — the idea appears to be to build an alliance between Israel and Sunni Arab nations against Iran. This would be used as leverage to settle the Palestinian question. If only it were that simple. Mr Trump seems to believe this has never been considered, and that he has hit on an almost Copernican change. There is, of course, a need to involve the leading Arab states, and bring a desperately needed element of stability to a region in flames. That is different to pushing for a single state. There is nothing to object to about a single state in which Israelis and Palestinians enjoy equal and democratic rights, secure land ownership, and a high degree of autonomy under some confederal pact. Lots of Palestinians, fed up with the corruption and fecklessness of their leadership, would jump at it. But there is no conceivable coalition in Israel remotely interested in such a deal. Mainstream Israelis fear Jews will be outnumbered by Arabs in the cramped space between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean, where the two populations are now almost equal at about 6.3m each. Yet this is happening in lieu of a two-state solution that would allow Israel to remain predominantly Jewish and democratic. The de facto single entity disfigured by the occupation is a demographic time-bomb that erodes Israel’s legitimacy. It is bad enough that Mr Netanyahu’s government is deepening the occupation with a big new push to settle more Jews on Arab land. His far right cabinet colleagues want to use the US policy shake-up to pre-empt the outcome, annexing swaths of the West Bank. Some exponents of this Greater Israel talk of somehow unloading the Palestinian populations of Gaza and the West Bank on Egypt and Jordan. The right regional approach would be to revive the Arab peace plan, on the table since 2002, which offers Israel peace and normal relations in exchange for its withdrawal from all Arab land captured in 1967, and the creation of a sovereign Palestine on the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Israel has never wanted to discuss this. But now it has much more in common with the Arabs — provided it commits to a just solution for Palestinians. Abandoning a two-state framework permits deeper Israeli colonisation and subjugation of the Palestinians, leading to one state by default, but with first and second-class citizens. That will leach away at Israel’s international legitimacy, boost the campaign to boycott the Jewish state and provide a new spur to extremism in a region where fanatics are plentiful. That would not be the “really a great peace deal” vaunted by Mr Trump — for anybody.