US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made an astonishing leap of logic last week when they concluded that Arab states were ready to jump into bed with Israel because of their concerns over Iran. The Arab League and numerous other parties rapidly disabused them of this error.
The late Saudi King Abdullah’s 2002 Arab Peace Initiative was brilliant because it was simple: Israel withdraws from the land it occupied, and Arab states declare peace. Those of us who closely followed decades of peace efforts are intimately familiar with every wrinkle of the various compromises required to make such a vision a reality, each concession representing thousands of hours of negotiations and interventions by world leaders and teams of officials.
This explains the sharp intake of breath around the world when Trump, with a casualness arising from complete ignorance, threw three decades of effort under a bus by abandoning America’s insistence on the two-state solution.
Netanyahu has a long record of outmaneuvering successive US presidents, commencing in 1996 with his disembowelment of the Oslo Accords. It is little secret that former US Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama regarded him as a pathological liar.
The only factor that distinguishes Netanyahu from the fascists and fundamentalists of Israel’s extreme-right is his understanding of the need to keep sweet-talking the US while he comprehensively sabotages its half-hearted overtures toward peace. Meanwhile, Netanyahu, through relentless illegal construction and a thousand other tactics, renders Palestinian statehood impossible.
Why does the two-state solution matter? Because international interlocutors realized that there was a need for a realistic negotiating framework to get the two sides engaging constructively, and it is the only option that addressed the aspirations and concerns of both sides.
A one-state solution does not stand up to scrutiny as a realistic prospect: Either an apartheid police state or a democracy with an Arab prime minister would be likely prospects. I wonder which version Netanyahu is thinking of!
What of his two preconditions? The first was Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. The Palestinian leadership has been clear about accepting the existence of Israel. In the context of a just peace, it is free to define itself however it wants.
An Israel that talks seductively of peace while throttling Palestinian national aspirations is our enemy and will remain so.
The second precondition, of a permanent Israeli military presence west of the Jordan River, is the grenade with which Netanyahu aims to reduce future peace efforts to a smoking wreck. He wants to retain expanding settlement blocs on the left side of the West Bank, while enforcing a wide militarized corridor on the right of this territory and swallowing Jerusalem whole. Not to mention the settlements on confiscated land that Israel’s Parliament is retroactively legalizing, and the forest of roads and infrastructure that such a vision entails.
Forget the “Swiss cheese” model. The vision Netanyahu is advocating would reduce a Palestinian state to a wistful trail of bubbles. The expansive military regime that he envisages retaining would not give these micro-cantons even a fig leaf of sovereignty.
Trump’s hubris about brokering the “biggest deal ever” in the Middle East has caused widespread alarm. This is not a man who, like Clinton and Obama, will make efforts to comprehend the intricacies of the peace process. Netanyahu will run circles around him, promising peace while vandalizing one proposal after another.
This circus is the olive branch that Trump and Netanyahu believe they are offering Arab states. They want us to join this ridiculous farce, which proclaims the aspiration for peace while gleefully killing off the prerequisites for Palestinian statehood. Trump possibly believes himself to be the great peacemaker, but the Arab world will not partake in this delusion.
Netanyahu will make no progress enlisting Arab states against the Palestinian cause. His pronouncements against Iran are mere warmongering, and a transparent attempt to divert attention away from peace efforts. Friendship and coexistence are possible, yet an Israel that talks seductively of peace while throttling Palestinian national aspirations is our enemy and will remain so.
Concerning those militant Zionists who are again dusting off deranged proposals for a Palestinian state in Gaza, Sinai or elsewhere, they should know that the whole world will line up with the Palestinians in rejecting such travesties.
Arab states have recently been active in brokering Palestinian reconciliation behind the scenes, in the hope that Palestinian factions can also unite behind efforts for a two-state vision. It is of fundamental importance that the Arab world speaks with one voice in supporting the vision of two states for two peoples, so whether Trump is speaking to Oman, Saudi Arabia or Egypt, he hears the same unambiguous message.
Despite all the millions of words, tons of literature and years of debates generated by an immense peace-making industry, there is only one route to a durable and just peace. It is simple enough to articulate to Trump in just three words: “End the occupation.”
• Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate, a foreign editor at Al-Hayat, and has interviewed numerous heads of state.