On Thursday, less than 48 hours after US President Donald Trump completed his successful visit to Israel, his chief negotiator Jason Greenblatt was back in town.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson set the tone for Greenblatt’s mission when he told reporters aboard Air Force One that during his visit, Trump “was putting a lot of pressure” on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and PLO chief Mahmoud Abbas “to get back to the table” and negotiate a peace deal.
Tillerson went on to explain why Trump is so keen to make a deal.
“We solve the Israeli-Palestinian peace dilemma, we start solving a lot of the peace throughout the Middle East region,” he said.
Trump apparently agrees with his secretary of state.
At his joint appearance with Abbas in Bethlehem on Tuesday, Trump said, “I firmly believe that if Israel and the Palestinians can make peace, it will begin a process of peace all throughout the Middle East.”
These statements, and Greenblatt’s swift return here indicate that as of now, on a substantive, strategic level, Trump is maintaining Obama’s policies on Israel and the Palestinians. And Obama’s policies on the issue, it bears noting, were substantively all but indistinguishable from those of George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush before him.
Like his predecessors, Trump is advancing a policy that assumes that the Palestinian conflict with Israel is the key issue that the US must grapple with in the Middle East. He is advancing the view that the US’s power in the region, and its ability to foster stability and security, are tied to what happens or does not happen in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to a degree, in Hamas-controlled Gaza. In short, like his predecessors, Trump believes that putting pressure on Israel to give land to the PLO is the key to resolving the conflicts of the Middle East.
This position stands incongruously next to the pledge that Trump made in his speech before Sunni leaders in Riyadh on Sunday. There, Trump explained the fundamental nature of his foreign policy as follows: "America," he said, "is committed to adjusting our strategies to meet evolving threats and new facts. We will discard those strategies that have not worked — and will apply new approaches informed by experience and judgment. We are adopting a principled realism, rooted in common values and shared interests."
In adopting his predecessors' policies on Israel and the Palestinians, Trump is ignoring his own maxim. He is not adjusting America's "strategies to meet evolving threats and new facts."
He is not "discard[ing] those strategies that have not worked" or "apply[ing] new approaches informed by experience and judgment."
To be sure, there are contrary indicators that give Israelis reason to hope that a significant revision of the US strategic approach is afoot.
Trump for instance did not mention the issue of Jewish construction in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria.
But then again, doing so would have undermined the purpose of his trip to Israel.
Trump visited Israel to show that he is a Zionist and a friend of the Jewish state. Had he gotten into a fight with the government about whether Jewish property rights should be respected in Israel’s capital and heartland, he would have failed to achieve his goal.
Moreover, why should he get his hands dirty? That’s what he has Greenblatt for.
There are a lot of people in Washington who are working diligently to ensure that Trump maintains his predecessors’ policy on Israel and the Palestinians.
But from Israel’s perspective, the man whose job it is to move Trump in a new direction is Prime Minister Netanyahu. Clearly, to date, Netanyahu has failed to secure this objective.
Netanyahu failed to convince Trump to abandon the anti-Israel two-state model and the anti-Israel notion that there is a direct correlation between the pathologies of the Islamic world and the absence of a Palestinian state, because Netanyahu refused to offer an alternative strategy for dealing with Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem.
Netanyahu didn’t fail to offer an alternative to the two-state model because he believes it is the right model to follow. He doesn’t believe it is the right model to follow.
Netanyahu’s failed to offer an alternative to the two-state model because he has bought into a different false notion – purveyed by supporters of the two-state model. Netanyahu has come to believe that the only alternative to the establishment of a Palestinian terror state in Israel’s capital city and its heartland (in addition to the Palestinian terror state in Gaza), is the one-state model.
According to adherents of the two-state model, a one-state model is a recipe for Israel’s demographic collapse. If Israel applies its laws to Judea and Samaria, they argue, the Palestinians who live there must all immediately receive Israeli citizenship. Given that they number 1.5 million to 2.5 million people, if Israel were to confer citizenship on all the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria, its Jewish majority would shrink significantly, or even be lost. And if Israel doesn’t naturalize them, it will cease to be a democracy.
At this juncture, it must be noted that at its core, the two-state model is not a strategy. Governments discard strategies when they fail. And the two-state model has failed repeatedly and consistently for nearly a hundred years.
The two-state model is a utopian fantasy. For its adherents, history will end the minute the PLO receives sovereignty over all of Judea, Samaria and over eastern, southern and northern Jerusalem.
And since it is a utopian fantasy, despite the fact that it has never done anything but fail, adherents of the two-state model never reassess their faith in it. To the contrary, with each failure, they think of new and creative ways to ensure that it is never abandoned.
The demographic threat is a key component of this effort. And just as the two-state formula has brought war and instability not peace and stability, so its implementation will not remove a demographic sword from Israel’s neck. It will cause Israel’s demographic and strategic destruction.
If a Palestinian state is ever established, in short order it will be flooded with millions of “immigrants” from Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and beyond. These “immigrants” include the so-called Palestinian refugees who dwell in UN camps controlled by Hezbollah, ISIS, al-Qaida and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. They will be joined by jihadists who will march on Jerusalem.
None of these “immigrants” will take kindly to the idea of Israel or its peace partners. They can be expected to overthrow the treacherous PLO and Hamas and then make war against a shrunken Israel with new permeable borders it is incapable of defending.
In other words, the establishment of a Palestinian state is an existential demographic and strategic threat that Israel has no means of countering.
Given the stakes, it is clear that if, as the two-state faithful insist, Israel has but two options going forward, then it is better off with the one-state option.
But the fact is that just as the two-state model is not a strategy, so its adherents’ presentation of Israel’s strategic options as a binary choice between a two-state and one-state model is a false choice. Israel doesn’t have a binary choice. Between the one-state and two-state models is a vast expanse of strategic options that Israel can choose from.
To recognize those choices and decide among them, our leaders must simply break down the problem in Judea and Samaria to its component parts.
From a security perspective, Israel cannot defend itself without permanent control over the Jordan Valley, the Samarian and Hebron mountain ranges and the southern and northern outskirts of Jerusalem. In other words, to long survive, Israel requires perpetual control over Area C.
From a societal and civil rights perspective, it is untenable and wrong to maintain Israel’s now 50-year-old military government in Area C. Today nearly half a million Israelis are treated as second class citizens. They lack basic due process rights in property disputes. They cannot register their land purchases if they purchase land from Palestinians or prove ownership if that ownership is disputed.
Finally, the people of Israel rationally fear the consequences of naturalizing 1.5 million to 2.5 million Palestinians who have been indoctrinated for more than 25 years to seek their annihilation.
In summary, we need to maintain perpetual control over the areas because we cannot survive without them from a military perspective. We need to change the system of governance in Area C to correct the civil rights infringement of the military government on the Israelis who live in the areas.
And we don’t want to naturalize 1.5 million to 2.5 million Palestinians.
Fortuitously, as far as the first two issues are concerned, the answer is the same. If Israel applies its laws to Area C it both ensures its military control of the areas critical to its survival for the long haul and it ends the inequitable and undemocratic civil rights infringement on its citizens who live there.
As for the Palestinians in Areas A and B, which are under the full control of the Palestinian Authority, one of the things that no one ever mentions is that these people – some 98% of the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria – have not lived under Israeli control since 1996.
For the past 21 years, all Palestinians in Judea and Samaria have lived under Palestinian rule. They carry Palestinian passports. Their births and deaths are recorded in the Palestinian population registry. They vote in Palestinian elections.
No one has ever explained why the Palestinians cannot continue to live under Palestinian autonomy in the future. Why must Israel cancel their autonomous rule?
This brings us to another point, which is a secondary issue for Israel but a primary one for the Palestinians: Palestinian economic prosperity.
Trump said in Bethlehem that he is interested in spurring Palestinian economic growth. The fact is that the Palestinian economy grew the most when it was integrated in the Israeli economy. Integration with the Israeli economy, rather than handouts to PLO kleptocrats, is the key to Palestinian prosperity.
In all of his speeches during his recent visit, as well as during his joint appearance with Netanyahu at the White House in February, Trump made clear that he is not wedded to the two-state model. Indeed, despite the entreaties of some of his advisers, Trump has refused to endorse Palestinian statehood even as he implements a policy whose goal is the establishment of such a state.
In Riyadh, Trump said, “We will make decisions based on real-world outcomes – not inflexible ideology. We will be guided by the lessons of experience, not the confines of rigid thinking.”
It isn’t too late for Netanyahu to come forward. He can offer an alternative to the failed two-state fantasy. He can release himself, his country and Trump from the two-state/one-state cognitive straitjacket.
Trump doesn’t want to repeat the mistakes of his predecessors. But absent a clear strategic plan of action from Netanyahu, he will have no choice but to do so.