During his first two years in office, President Trump has worked to repair a relationship with Israel that was severely damaged by Barack Obama and to make respect for the Jewish State an essential component of US Mideast policy. He demonstrated this commitment by moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, taking the lead in the fight against global antisemitism, and recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. These actions illustrate a shift in US policy back towards Israel, America’s strongest ally in the region, and away from the radical regimes that were enabled by the previous administration. Perhaps most significantly, Mr. Trump appears to have changed the approach to Mideast peace by rejecting the theory of linkage and eschewing the much vaunted two-state solution.
Though Trump has yet to disclose the terms of his Arab-Israeli peace initiative – and despite reservations about what it may contain – his demonstrated regard for Israel suggests the faulty assumptions legitimized by the Oslo Accords no longer apply. Unlike Presidents Obama, Bush, and Clinton, Mr. Trump seems not to expect Israel to continue making concessions despite Palestinian rejectionism or to relinquish all territory liberated from Jordan and Syria in 1967. Moreover, he recognizes that antisemitic rejectionism is the obstacle to peace – not Jewish settlements or an “occupation” that exists only in the minds of Israel’s detractors. Leaks regarding his “deal of the century” suggest his administration does not regard a two-state solution as the resolutional goal. Such conjecture is consistent with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s comment during the Israeli elections that Bibi Netanyahu’s pledge to extend Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria would not undermine Mr. Trump’s initiative.
Past US presidents, the European Union, and United Nations have all advocated two-state scenarios with preordained borders and a divided Jerusalem. However, they never contemplated that Israel would reject their preconceived assumptions that she would willingly pull back to indefensible borders or agree to an Arab “right of return.”
The Oslo Accords of 1993 validated a Palestinian political narrative that denigrated Jewish history while demanding that Israel accept its authenticity.
Next came the “Roadmap for Peace” in 2002, which was equally problematic. While George W. Bush expressed sincere affinity for Israel, the Roadmap institutionalized a process that seemed to elevate Palestinian claims over Jewish ancestral rights. Making Jerusalem negotiable, for example, subverted Israel’s sovereignty over the ancient Jewish capital. Likewise, the goal of a Palestinian state throughout Judea and Samaria devalued Israeli claims to lands that were recognized as historically-Jewish under the original Mandate for Palestine – which never contemplated a nation of Palestine.
Neither Oslo nor the Roadmap created a functional negotiating framework. Rather, they established a dynamic that
(a) compromised Israeli security,
(b) raised unrealistic Arab expectations,
(c) facilitated waves of terror that killed more than 1,350 Jews between 1993 and 2009,
(d) enabled the ascendancy of Hamas, and (e) precipitated two wars in Gaza. Israel was coerced into one-sided concessions and labeled intractable when she protested Arab noncompliance.
Two-state proponents have always discounted Jewish history and promoted resolutional models based on erroneous presumptions. They assume, for example, that: (a) Israel is a colonial creation with no antecedent interest in Judea, Samaria or Jerusalem; (b) Israeli “settlements” are illegal; and (c) the Palestinians accept Jewish sovereignty but simply want a state of their own. These assumptions are false and ignore the Jews’ ancient connection to their homeland and the role of Islamic radicalism in preventing peace.
Even well-meaning peace advocates legitimize false assumptions by demanding that Israel extend goodwill to those who seek her destruction, and rationalizing such illogic with platitudes like, “you make peace with enemies, not friends.” Indeed, successive Israeli governments indulged the two-state fantasy by negotiating with parties who had no real interest in peace – as evidenced by the PA’s refusal to amend its charter and accept Israel’s right to exist. Still, they could not erase Jewish history in Judea and Samaria or the presence of Jews throughout the land since time immemorial. Israel has valid arguments under international law for retaining control of the territory she acquired in 1967, but both her legal and historical claims are belittled under the two-state framework.
Oslo and the Roadmap were built on shaky foundations that nourished unrealistic expectations. But the Palestinians’ refusal to cease incitement or recognize Israel’s legitimacy exposes their rejectionism, not Israeli intransigence, as the impediment to peace. It is difficult to envision any disposition without a change in how the Arab-Muslim world regards Jews, Israel, and Palestinian national mythology. Change may be coming, however, as some of the Sunni states have found common ground with Israel on Iran.
The current administration seems to realize that a two-state solution is unworkable
While this apparent change in perspective begs the question of whether peace is attainable, it should be noted that the two-state goal was not explicitly articulated as policy until the Roadmap and was never discussed when Egypt controlled Gaza and Jordan occupied Judea and Samaria from 1948 to 1967.
Nobody knows whether lasting peace is achievable, but what President Trump seems to understand is that Israel cannot accept an imposed resolution that compromises her national integrity or Jewish character.
Therefore, the next logical step should be to jettison the faulty presumptions that fueled Oslo and the Roadmap and instead acknowledge the centrality of Jewish historical rights. If the President believes his “deal of the century” will bring peace by its merits alone, he might well be as mistaken as his predecessors. But if his real intention is to facilitate a paradigm shift as the template for future discussions, it may prove to be a breath of fresh air.