BEIRUT — We should have a better idea in the coming 48 hours what the Trump administration really means by an unnamed senior White House official’s statement that Washington does not necessarily insist in a two-state solution as the outcome of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations — meaning adjacent, sovereign Palestinian and Israeli states living in peace. Then again, it might be that both the senior White House official and visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could both be indicted in courts in a few weeks, given the precarious situations these days before the law of both Netanyahu and some White House officials.
This does not take into account that both Netanyahu and Trump are candidates for the Global Prize in Flip-flopping Double-Speak. They have both said they are committed to certain principles, and then either reversed themselves or pursued policies that make application of those principles impossible to achieve, e.g., the illegality or legality of Jewish colonial-settlements, moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, supporting a two-state solution. So we should be slow and cautious to react to the latest statement about the non-essential nature of a two-state solution. For the Americans and Israelis making these statements on the future of Palestine and Israel have repeatedly shown themselves to be ignorant, confused, untrustworthy, or simply hormone-bloated, mean, aging male politicians in increasingly dysfunctional democracies that ignore the primacy of the rule of law and the clear consensus of virtually the entire world.
Unnamed senior White House officials’ statements usually need to be taken with great caution, or else the speaker would have identified themselves to give their thoughts more clout. In this White House, that principle is at least doubled, given the erratic nature of political management we have seen in the past three weeks. So we should not react very strongly to this right now, other than to enjoy the show of two troubled and very entertaining politicians trying to save each other in the midst of swirling political waters all around them.
Yet, two dimensions of this situation may be significant. The first is how two foreign tough-guys assume that they can dictate or at least direct the future fate of Palestine. This has been a problem for the past 50 years, when Israel and the U.S. used their military and political muscle to try to impose the shape of a permanent peace agreement with Arab states and Palestinians. It has not worked and will not work, precisely for the reason mentioned by the White House ghost speaker, who said that the parties themselves have to negotiate the final shape of a peace settlement.
It is fascinating that the Israel-U.S. combine feels it can unilaterally lay out what it seeks or accepts in a permanent agreement, and in so doing to go against the entire consensus of the entire world and the entire body of international law and conventions during the entire past half-century (since the 1967 war). This is another sign of the presumptuous Israel-American sense of being able to lay down the law and the Palestinians have no option other than to accept. Yet the past 50 years — and the 70 years since 1948, and the 100 years since the 1917 Balfour Declaration that gave global diplomatic impetus to the Zionist desire to create a Jewish state in the land of Palestine that was some 95% Arab Palestinians then — indicate that Palestinians and Arabs will not roll over and accept humiliating sub-sovereign and sub-national status in the face of Israeli-American power that is regularly used against them. That the new American presidency seems to be repeating this combination of arrogance- and ignorance-driven mediation in Palestine-Israel is disheartening, but probably not lasting.
The other fascinating issue is the context in the U.S. in which all this plays out. A new Gallup poll shows that Americans overwhelmingly (71%) have a favorable image of Israel. This is not new, and it is fully understandable in view of how Israel and its friends and clients in the U.S. repeatedly portray it in public in positive terms, many of which align with America’s own historical mythology and throbbing foundational heartstrings.
Yet equally important here is that the across-the-board high admiration for Israel is slowly tapering off, as just 61% of Democrats and 63% of 18-29-year-old Americans have a favorable view of it. These are small but steady changes, and they are supported by the second point, which is the evidence from numerous other national polls that Americans want their government to be even-handed in promoting Israel-Palestine peace — which is very much in line with traditional American values. This is especially clear among young people and Democrats, including Jewish-Americans, which this new Gallup poll reflects only slightly because it only asked about views towards Israel, and not to both Israel and Palestine.
So we should wait and see whether this new American administration follows all the others before it in recognizing that a two-state solution that offers Israel and Palestine equal rights is the best way to resolve this long-running conflict.
Let us also hope that this is reflected in the policies of governments and not just their words. This seems to be the wish of the entire world, including Americans, other than perhaps a narrowing circle of extreme politicians in Washington who will make their voices heard again this week, while the rushing and rising waters of the stream of justice and equal rights for all people close in on them day by day.
Rami G. Khouri is a senior fellow at the American University of Beirut and the Harvard Kennedy School, and can be followed on Twitter @ramikhouri
Copyright ©2017 Rami G. Khouri — distributed by Agence Global
Released: 16 February 2017
Word Count: 909
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Agence Global is the exclusive syndication agency for Le Monde diplomatique, and The Washington Spectator, as well as expert commentary by Richard Bulliet, Rami G. Khouri, Vadim Nikitin, John Stoehr, and Immanuel Wallerstein.