The comment by US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert, made at a press briefing this past Wednesday, was as absurd as it was dangerous: “We are not going to state what the outcome [to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict] has to be. It has to be workable to both sides. And I think, really, that’s the best view as to not really bias one side over the other.”
By this logic, any expressed preference by the Trump administration for a two-state solution risks prejudging the outcome of the peace process in favor of either Israelis or Palestinians.
In reality, an explicit endorsement of a two-state solution is the most unbiased approach that the administration could take.
Polls consistently show that a majority of Israelis, despite having little hope for peace or trust in Palestinian intentions, continue to support a two-state solution. Mirror-image sentiments predominate among Palestinians, yet polls show their consistent support for a two-state solution as well, continually wavering between a majority and a plurality in favor.
The same goes for the leadership on both sides. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu endorsed a two-state solution in 2009, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated his long-held support in his May press conference with President Trump.
Of course, the credibility of each side’s commitment can rightfully be called into question. Netanyahu continues to boastfully expand settlements while vowing to maintain a permanent Israeli military presence in the West Bank (also known as “occupation”). Meanwhile, the Palestinians remain split between a Palestinian Authority ruled by Abbas – who twice has inexplicably walked away from peace talks – and Hamas, who remain committed to terrorism and rejection of Israel’s existence.
Indeed, with the incredibly difficult, narrative-defying compromises that each side would have to make, neither Israel nor the Palestine Liberation Organization (which represents the Palestinians in negotiations) has ever spoken of a two-state solution with enthusiasm. But they’ve been forced to accept it due to a simple, prevailing truth: it’s the only scenario for Israelis and Palestinians that can fully end the conflict between them.
This fact has also been accepted by the international community, which has given across-the-board endorsement of the two-state solution. It’s also received bipartisan support in the US, with George W. Bush the first American President to publicly endorse an independent Palestinian state, a commitment reaffirmed by President Obama.
By refusing to endorse a two-state solution, the only bias that the Trump administration risks is toward Hamas and the right-wing Israeli extremists who seek full annexation of the West Bank.
Absent the ludicrous position it’s now being used to justify, an approach couched in the language and logic of seeking to be unbiased towards either Israel or the Palestinians would be a hopeful sign. The problem is that the statement, in itself, reveals the bias already being practiced. So far, the Trump administration hasn’t just evidenced bias in favor of Israel’s positions – including having given Netanyahu virtually free reign on settlement expansion – but in favor of Netanyahu’s domestic political considerations as well.
It’s been clear since the Trump-Netanyahu press conference in February that the Israeli PM had secured a commitment from Trump not to utter the words “two-state solution,” in order to prevent a political assault on Netanyahu from the Israeli right-wing. And yet, Trump’s exact words were that he would be “happy” with whatever end-game solution that “Bibi [Netanyahu] and the Palestinians” want. Despite what have often been actions to the contrary, Bibi and the Palestinians have only accepted one outcome – a two-state solution.
If the administration can’t – or won’t – even push Netanyahu to accept a position he’s already publicly endorsed, what hope is there for pushing both Israelis and Palestinians to accept “the ultimate deal”?
This article appeared first on August 25, 2017 in The Times of Israel blog