There, I said it. I just don’t know why an American President had to say it.
Trump’s declaration about Jerusalem is as obvious as the fact that the Palestinians will never be given a “right of return” to Israel. We all know that if there is to be a two-state solution, Israel will require that (a) its capital be in West Jerusalem and (b) many Palestinians whose families come from pre-‘67 Israel can’t return there. But we also know that Israel will have to make meaningful concessions to the Palestinians as well. And right now, our President isn’t making proclamations reflecting any such concessions. At least publicly, he isn’t putting pressure on Israel of any kind. As a result, his comments this week come across as mere politics (appealing to his pro-Israel base), and we simply can’t afford to play politics when it comes to making peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.
To put our President’s proclamation in perspective, let’s place the statement in context. Let’s consider the words published in a New York Times op-ed, barely a week ago, in which former Israeli Prime Minister and Defense Minister, Ehud Barak describes the government he once ran:
In its more than three years in power, this government has been irrational, bordering on messianic. It is now increasingly clear where it is headed: creeping annexation of the West Bank aimed at precluding any permanent separation from the Palestinians.
This “one-state solution” that the government is leading Israel toward is no solution at all. It will inevitably turn Israel into a state that is either not Jewish or not democratic (and possibly not either one), mired in permanent violence. This prospect is an existential danger for the entire Zionist project.
The government realizes that carrying out its one-state plan must entail steps and practices that necessarily clash with Israeli and international law — which is why it has effectively declared war on the Supreme Court of Israel, the free press and civil society, as well as the Israel Defense Forces’ ethical code.
These are serious allegations. While I can’t personally vouch for all of them, what I can say is that Bibi Netanyahu refuses to make any unilateral concessions and won’t even encourage the resumption of peace talks or hope for a two-state solution until the Palestinians make unilateral concessions of their own. Just think about it – the party with the power (Israel) won’t talk peace until the party without the power (the Palestinians) offers tangible olive branches. Try that the next time you have power and want concessions from someone who doesn’t. Push them around a while, don’t give an inch, and then start making demands. See how well that works.
Perhaps an even bigger problem is the attitude on the street. Increasingly, Israelis are simply giving up on a two-state solution. Because they don’t the trust the Palestinians, they view any concessions that Israel might make as mere security risks. Essentially, they look at the status quo, where millions of Palestinians are effectively stateless and living under Israeli control, as the best of all possible worlds, the key being the word “possible.” In other words, increasingly, Israelis are reconciling themselves to a permanent one-state solution and voting for politicians like Netanyahu to deliver it to them.
Believe me, I fully appreciate that as partners for peace go, the Palestinians aren’t exactly ideal. I fully appreciate that to Palestinians, the idea of a two-state solution is something that is widely detested and at best grudgingly tolerated. Worse yet, many Palestinians would support such a “solution” as a mere interim measure – as in, we will concede now, take soon, and demand more later. I call that the two-stage solution. And I find it monstrous.
Nor do I support measures like the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement which singles out Israel, among all the places in the universe, to punish economically. To me, BDS rests on imposing a double standard and on punishing Jews whenever they act the way gentiles would. That can’t possibly be a path to peace, let alone justice.
But nor does making unilateral concessions to the Netanyahu government – rewarding that government for acting like bullies who are hell-bent on seizing whatever is left of Palestinian land. If we as Americans are going to continue to oppose BDS, which for all its problems is at least a non-violent form of resistance, we had better come up with a different strategy. We had better speak plainly and loudly about how much we loath settlement expansion in the West Bank. We had better speak out against demanding preconditions from the Palestinians before Israel should have to re-engage in peace talks. And we had better refrain from making gratuitous concessions to Israel about hotly-disputed issues ... unless of course, we are making gratuitous concessions to the Palestinians of an equal magnitude.