Though President-elect Donald Trump seems momentarily bent on scolding “Saturday Night Live” and the New York Times, some policies of his administration are coming into focus. Alarmingly, he appears willing to abandon a core component of America’s Middle East policy: commitment to a two-state solution.
If true, this would be a historic mistake.
We still do not yet know precisely what postures the Trump administration will take toward the region, but we do have some indication based on comments from the president-elect’s incoming Middle East advisory team.
One of them, Jason Greenblatt, recently told Israeli media that Trump “does not view Jewish settlements as an obstacle to peace,” while another, David Friedman, said the two-state solution is not “the only answer anymore” and that annexing the West Bank would not damage Israel.
With U.S. pressure for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians apparently set to soften, Israel’s right wing has not wasted time pressuring Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to back away from his prior commitment.
A bill to legalize previously unauthorized West Bank Jewish outposts has been making its way through the Knesset this week. Netanyahu opposed the bill, but hard-right leaders such as Naftali Bennett feel emboldened, perhaps due in part to a sympathetic incoming Trump administration.
Separately, the Times of Israel reported that Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told a gathering of his Yisrael Beiteinu party that Israel has not built enough West Bank settlements over the past eight years, and that his nation needs to open “a new page” in its relationship with the United States.
Let us be clear. The Palestinian Authority shares enormous blame for obstructing progress. Incitement of hatred of Jews continues apace in Palestinian society, and PA leaders’ dedication to a two-state solution seems little more than lip service.
Yet, however one feels about Jewish settlements in the West Bank, their unfettered expansion — particularly outside greater Jerusalem and other key blocs, which Israel will undoubtedly fight to hold onto in any peace negotiation — is seen by most of the world, including the United States, as an obstacle to peace.
Turning geopolitical tankers around is not easy. Israel, the United States and all other interested parties have long bought into the two-state solution as the only just and equitable pathway to peace. Elusive as it is, this prescription must remain the North Star of Middle East diplomacy.