Ending the Israeli Palestinian Conflict: Trump’s Two State Solution
While at the United Nations last week, President Trump publicly endorsed a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Speaking at United Nations General Assembly Trump stated, “the United States is committed to a future of peace and stability in the region, including peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.” After his speech he doubled down in a press conference vowing to bring forth a Middle East plan in the next four months.
Trump’s commitment to finding a two-state solution is a step in the right direction in finding peace in the Middle East. The ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine over land division, borders, and governance has not only spawned violence, but it has long stymied peace efforts in the region. While some believe Trump’s commitment to ending the decades-long conflict between Israel and Palestine is aspirational at best, others see it is as a potential crowning achievement of the Trump presidency.
Since 2014, peace talks have been suspended and efforts to revive them have proved unsuccessful with successive US administrations failing to broker any definitive long-term treaty. The peace talk process was forged in 1993 with the signing of the Oslo Accords. These accords established a timetable for the Middle East peace process and served as the first formal mutual recognition between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The peace process has endured and while three administrations have tried to resolve the conflict, (Clinton, Bush, and Obama) all have failed. Each administration had a different approach to negotiations in order to achieve peace between Israel and Palestine, from intense direct negotiations with extensive U.S. involvement to minimal direct negotiations and the Secretary of State serving as a go between. Peace has not been agreed upon or found among the Israelis and Palestinians, and some argue the U.S. should abandon the hope of a two-state solution altogether.
In contrast, Trump has indicated a good faith move in Israel’s favor by moving the embassy to Jerusalem. In a meeting with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump pointed out, “I took probably the biggest chip off the table. And so obviously they have to start you know we have to make it a fair deal. Now that will also mean that Israel will have to do something that is good for the other side.” However, it may not be as simple as that. Moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem strained relations with the Palestinians and matters were further worsened when Trump slashed $500 million in aid to the Palestinians via the US contributions to the UN Relief and Works Agency.
Nearly 25 years later and support for a two-state solution is at its lowest level since Oslo with only 43% of Palestinians saying they would accept it. Increased Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine territory and demands for resignation of Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, along with increased violence puts Palestine in a precarious situation when it comes to confidence in the likelihood of a Palestinian state in the next five years.
The biggest contributing factor to low confidence in a two-state solution from a Palestinian point of view is the growing number of Israeli settlements. Over half of Palestinians believe a two-state solution is no longer a viable option due to the increased settlement construction. Similarly, roughly half of Israelis also believe the settlements are a hindrance to a two-state solution, but they do not necessarily see the two-state solution as the only way to achieve peace.
There is an opportunity for Trump to usher in a new age of peace between Israel and Palestine by going back to the 1967 line. Often referred to as the Green Line, the pre-’67 border is the line of armistice agreed to in 1949 at the end of a war Israelis call the War of Independence. The armistice lines were meant to serve as temporary lines, originally drawn in green ink, hence the “Green Line,” until permanent lines could be determined in peace negotiations, which did not happen before the 1967 war.
Fast forward to 2008, the Obama administration came close to achieving a two-state solution. Despite his administration’s efforts, it should be noted the issue was not so much the border agreement between Israel and Palestine, but the question of the return of Palestinians who left or were forced to leave their home within the new state of Israel during the 1947–1949 war and the future of Jerusalem.
Aside from reverting back to the ’67 borders, Trump will have to get Israel to end settlement construction along the West Bank. The settlements, which have been deemed illegal by the U.N. Security Council, are expanding at a rapid pace. Since 1993 the settlements have grown from 100,000 settlements to more than 400,000 (not including East Jerusalem or the Gaza Strip) and extend beyond the internationally agreed upon borders for Israel. As Israeli settlements continue to grow, settlers are also bringing violence against the Palestinian population, which will no doubt serve as a sticking point in the peace process.
The settlements combined with the relocation of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem will make it a little tricky to get both sides to the negotiating table. Ultimately, there is a real opportunity for the United States to bring both Israel and Palestine back to the table and provide assistance/reassurance in the negotiation process. In order to usher in a new age of peace between Israel and Palestine, Trump will have to get Israel to offer a show of good faith to the Palestinians in the form of taking a hiatus from settlement construction.