By Claude Salhani
The Israeli-Palestinian dispute is the Gordian knot of modern-day politics. The more levels you untie, the more problems there seem to be.
The Middle East has stumped and confused the brightest of minds with intricate knowledge and understanding of the area, its people, its culture and its problems. From the brightest of politicians to the wisest of scholars, all come up a shekel short or a day late.
So imagine how much more complex this conflict must seem to outsiders lacking the in-depth knowledge of the land and without the understanding of what motivates the people in this conflict.
Lacking the needed experience in resolving such conflicts, Trump administration negotiators will find themselves in this bottomless pit that has dragged every politician who has tried to mediate in the dispute since Gunnar Jarring’s first stab at negotiating peace between the Arabs and the Israelis in 1967.
What makes this more worrisome is the arrogance of the current White House resident, who lacks experience in mediating a barroom brawl, let alone one of the world’s longest-running and most complex conflicts.
US President Donald Trump wrongly believes that his decisions may be advancing the peace process. In reality, he is adding to the problem.
Trump believed he could advance the dormant peace process but his interjecting edicts, as when he ordered the US Embassy transferred to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv or when he declared that Israel could annex the Golan Heights, set the potential for a peaceful resolution further back.
Trump believes he and his close associates, mainly his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, can succeed where others failed. So far, they have only succeeded in alienating the Palestinians, who refuse to negotiate with Trump.
The United States had supported the idea of a two-state solution but, in view of Pompeo’s statement concerning Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the United States is making a major reversal of the long-standing policy and legal opinion that deemed settlements inconsistent with international law.
The two-state solution was based on a set of trade-offs: the Palestinians reclaiming their land in exchange for Israeli security and peace and the Palestinians accepting a formula of no right of return to Israel in exchange for Jerusalem as their capital.
However, the move by the Trump administration buries the idea of two states existing side by side and leaves a one-state solution as the only alternative, one in which the Arabs would comprise roughly 50% of Israel’s population, an unfortunate alternative for both Israelis and Palestinians.
The Israelis, far more than the Palestinians, reject the one-state solution because, if Palestinians are absorbed into Israel, it would, within a very short time, leave Israelis as a minority in their own country.
A few years ago, following another failed attempt at bridging the gap between the Israelis and the Palestinians, some young Palestinians floated the idea of accepting the one-state solution.
“I am tired of being treated as a second-class citizen. I am tired of the occupation and the manner in which we are treated by the Israelis,” said a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation negotiating team. “Make us citizens of a one-state solution with equal rights and let’s forget about having an independent state of Palestine.”
The first blow to a two-state solution came when Trump declared Jerusalem as the legitimate capital of Israel without also stating the same for the Palestinians.
The Trump administration then stated that the only right of return for Palestinians should be for those who originally left Israel more than 70 years ago, not their offspring, totally ignoring international rights of return and property ownership for family members.
Now comes the fatal blow — Pompeo stating that Israel has the right to take Palestinian land in the West Bank to accommodate the expansion of its citizenry. Pompeo ignored the fact that the settlements have been deemed illegal.
“Now that the US has declared Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, settlements in the West Bank as legal and the US statements on limiting rights of return, there is little reason for either side to negotiate a peaceful and final agreement of a two-state solution,” said Edward M. Gabriel a former US ambassador to Morocco and currently president of the American Task Force for Lebanon.
Claude Salhani is a regular columnist for The Arab Weekly.