How Donald Trump killed hope for a Palestinian state
In this June 19, 2015 photo, young Palestinians use a ladder to climb over the separation barrier with Israel in Al-Ram, north of Jerusalem. Israel has built several walls and fences, including its West Bank separation barrier, which is to reach 450 miles when complete. Israel says the wall is a security measure, but Palestinians say it is a way of cementing land grabs, while activists call it Israel's "apartheid wall." | Majdi Mohammed / AP

Donald Trump’s December 6, 2017 decision on Jerusalem—to establish the United States Embassy there against America’s own past policy and world consensus—and his following tweets, supported by Congress, have implications for U.S. Middle East policy that have finally convinced many peace activists that the two-state solution, a Palestinian state alongside Israel, is indeed a fantasy.

What happened

Achieving a sovereign, economically viable Palestinian state had always been a long shot, arguably ever since 1948, and more so after 1967. The disparity between rich, politically connected, militarily strong Israel and poor and weak Palestine, allowed Israel’s leaders to block any possibility of a Palestinian state. It has been clear for decades that Israeli leaders turned away from peace initiatives to fulfill their openly expressed goal to control all the land between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea.

There is no political will in Israel among either the leadership or the people to allow a Palestinian state; nevertheless, two-state advocates worked tirelessly to change that situation by promoting significant pressure from the U.S. and Western democracies.

Although the U.S. had shown little inclination to pressure Israel for 25 years, a potential opening existed based on the tension between stated U.S. Israel-Palestine policy and U.S. actions. For decades the U.S. said it supported an end to the Occupation and the emergence of a Palestinian state, but it has acted contrary to that policy. There would be a chance for peace if the U.S. resolved that tension by acting in conformity with its stated policy. The personal antipathy between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a time suggested that the U.S. might hold fast to its declared policy.

Trump’s Jerusalem decision shattered that path to peace, resolving the tension by changing American policy to conform with its actions. That killed any hope for a Palestinian state, and set Israel-Palestine on a short path to fully realized apartheid.

What will happen

The Israeli right is energized and has already passed laws that strengthen Israel’s hold on the West Bank, increasing Palestinian dispossession and oppression. And more will follow, including formal annexation of large portions of the West Bank. The land between the river and the sea will look more and more like the single state it actually is, and the apartheid nature of that state will be harder and harder to deny.

Apartheid is a crime against humanity according to the 1973 United Nations Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid and the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. As such, the U.S., and all members of the U.N., are compelled to act against any country that practices apartheid. But no such action can be expected from the United States, surely not so long as Republicans have enough power to block Congressional or executive action.

Nevertheless, apartheid has a limited life because it is inherently unstable. The Palestinian people cannot be suppressed in perpetuity. Eventually the disenfranchised majority will rise up. And, supported by the international community, they will demand their rights.

Apartheid will be overthrown, and likely a bi-national state will emerge. But that is too far in the future to discuss with any detail.

Requiem for a Palestinian state

A majority of Jewish Americans—according to a 2017 American Jewish Committee survey—have supported a Palestinian state alongside Israel as the best path to peace. Alas, Trump’s Jerusalem decision made achieving a two-state solution far less likely in the foreseeable future.

In fact, the two-state solution was never the ideally preferred political structure for the region. Rather it was a pragmatic option driven by the existence of a regional and international consensus for two states, and the apparent impossibility of a one-state solution.

If a single democratic state were possible, masses of people both in the region and in the international community would work hard to make it happen. But it seems less likely to emerge than a viable Palestinian state. A movement for equal rights, meaning a single democratic state, is starting to emerge among younger Palestinians and has been echoed by Palestinian leaders Saeb Erekat and Mustafa Barghouti. But even after Trump’s Jerusalem decision, the PLO Central Council, with Erekat and Barghouti as members, recommitted the Palestinian people to a Palestinian state. There simply is not a significant political movement in either Israel or Palestine for a single democratic state to overcome its fierce opposition among Jewish Israelis.

In addition, it is doubtful that a unitary state will satisfy the strong nationalisms on both sides that each demand a sovereign state. And finally, after 50 years of a violent occupation, it is reasonable to ask if the Israeli and Palestinian people are ready to live together. It seems more likely that a unitary state would quickly collapse into violence.

The loss of the two-state solution is deeply to be regretted because whatever happens, there will be many years of Israeli oppression that creates massive suffering, mostly on the Palestinian side, but also of the Israelis. At the same time, opposition to Israeli apartheid will lead to ever more heightened anti-Semitism, partly triggered by Israel and its supporters irreducibly conflating Judaism, Zionism, and Israel government policy.

Many years of friendship and working alongside those individuals and organizations committed to two states have unquestionably proven their idealism, passion, and dedication. What is missing in those efforts at this juncture is the pragmatic vision of how two states will come about. Two-staters now need to articulate a much clearer plan indicating exactly those forces that must come together to implement their long dreamed-of solution that now appears so elusive.

Perhaps the answer to that question lies in the inscrutable workings of history, whose sudden lurches and switchbacks can instantly change the terrain. For example, suppose the investigations of corruption against Prime Minister Netanyahu were to unleash massive evidence of collusion, bribery, self-aggrandizement, fraud, and worse and Israelis rose up to restore democracy and allow space for serious negotiations with Palestinians about the future of the region. It could happen.

And what if the majority party changes in the U.S. Congress? That could come within a year’s time. Although the Democratic Party leadership is pro-Israel, it includes a significant fraction who want to see the United States pursue a more balanced Israel-Palestinian policy that recognizes the Palestinian right to self-determination. That small fraction is supported by the Democratic rank and file, only 27 percent of whom favor Israel over Palestine, according to a January 2018 Pew Research Center survey.

The peace movement is adrift with no clear path forward. There were those who professed for years that the peace process was a fantasy. But still, is the one person-one vote single democratic state path to peace unattainable?

At this moment it appears that the future in Israel/Palestine will bring out the worst in humanity—or, against all odds, conceivably the best.


Eric A. Gordon
Eric A. Gordon

Eric A. Gordon, People’s World Cultural Editor, wrote a biography of radical American composer Marc Blitzstein and co-authored composer Earl Robinson’s autobiography. He has received numerous awards for his People's World writing from the International Labor Communications Association. He has translated all nine books of fiction by Manuel Tiago (pseudonym for Álvaro Cunhal) from Portuguese, available from International Publishers NY.

Jeff Warner
Jeff Warner

Jeff Warner is a Jewish peace activist in Los Angeles. He is active in LA Jews for Peace, Jews for Peace Between Israelis and Palestinians, Americans for Peace Now, and Cousins Club of Orange County. Warner is a retired geologist.