UNITED NATIONS — Hours before hundreds of people protested outside the White House and hundreds more gathered at over a dozen demonstrations across the United States on Feb. 15, President Donald Trump took aim at more than a decade and a half of foreign policy during a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“So I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like,” Trump said. “I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one.”
The statement broke with longstanding U.S. orthodoxy, which has supported the partition of historic Palestine into two states, Palestine and Israel, since Bill Clinton adopted the principle into his “parameters” in the waning days of his administration.
Trump’s official departure from it has left observers wondering about the significance of his remarks and what effects, if any, the shift in U.S. policy might have.
“Historically, both the Democrats and Republicans have done nothing serious to stop Israel from continuing its occupation of Palestine nor the illegal settlements and theft of Palestinian land,” Abbas Hamideh, a Palestinian-American activist in Cleveland, Ohio, and vice-chair of Al-Awda: The Palestine Right to Return Coalition, told MintPress News.
“Trump’s rhetoric will not be taken seriously by any party.”
Others questioned whether Trump’s statements, which have famously veered across the map on Palestine and any number of other issues, should be taken seriously, even as expressions of his own administration’s policy.
“I honestly believe that half of what Trump says is based on a lack of knowledge and understanding of domestic or foreign policy,” Hatem Abudayyeh, a U.S. Palestinian Community Network co-founder and steering committee member from Chicago, told MintPress.
“He shoots from the hip with no regard for precedent or ramifications. He wants to run the U.S. like he runs his businesses, like an autocrat. But the other half of what he says is based on an ultra-right wing worldview, so this could be that.”
‘A painful and humiliating compromise’
The two-state solution has always been a controversial position among both Palestinians and Israelis, as well as their respective supporters.
While ultra-Zionists aspire to Jewish rule over the whole of historic Palestine, many Palestinians fear partition would sacrifice the right of return by Palestinian refugees, descendants of the majority of Palestinians forced from their homes by Zionist militias, and later Israeli forces, during the founding of the state of Israel starting in 1947.
Some worry it would also compromise the existing rights of the Palestinians who survived the attempt to oust them and now form a minority of 20 percent within Israel, perhaps lending impetus to demands by the country’s right wing that it purge them as well.
“The two-state solution was a painful and humiliating compromise,” Ayman Nijim, a Palestinian refugee and activist from the Gaza Strip’s Deir al-Balah refugee camp now living in Burlington, Vermont, told MintPress.
“We should disavow it now even if the Palestinian Authority has to be dissolved.”
With the PA’s existence hinging on Palestinian acquiescence to Oslo Accords that launched it in 1994, and the international funding that flowed to it as a result, its collapse seems like a probable result of any Palestinian break from two-state orthodoxy.
But with the two-state solution apparently losing its official support in Washington, the foremost sponsor of Oslo and broker of decades of talks between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, increasingly few Palestinians see it as a promising strategy for their freedom.
On Wednesday, even PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat, the movement’s longtime chief negotiator, seemed less than enthusiastic in his support for two states, calling it “a Palestinian adoption of an international formula” and “a painful and historic Palestinian compromise of recognizing Israel over 78 percent of historic Palestine.”
“Contrary to Netanyahu’s plan of one state and two systems, Apartheid, the only alternative to two sovereign and democratic states on the 1967 border is one single secular and democratic state with equal rights for everyone, Christians, Muslims, and Jews, on all of historic Palestine,” Erekat said.
‘Left to fend on their own’
At the grassroots level, a public opinion survey released Thursday by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research and the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research showed 44 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip supporting a two-state solution, down from 51 percent during a comparable poll conducted six months ago.
Meanwhile, 36 percent of Palestinians supported a single state with equal rights for all current inhabitants, while 50 percent of Israeli Jews favored two states, as opposed to 19 percent backing a unitary state.
When respondents saw the likely details of a final status agreement, including the division of holy sites and and limited return by refugees, their support for two states fell to 42 percent among Palestinians under military occupation and 41 percent of Israeli Jews.
Trump’s statement may not herald any dramatic changes by the United States.
“The Palestinians will be left to fend on their own for survival,” Hamideh said.
He added that for the United States to be taken seriously by Palestinians, “it needs to involve stopping any funds to Israel. The U.S. cannot continue its double standards of funding oppression, occupation and then playing negotiator.”
But cracks in the international two-state consensus could change the calculations of Palestinian leaders who have, until now, defended their cooperation with Israel using the prospect of Palestinian freedom in a future state.
“It is a step forward if they can take any action and stop, right now, the coordination with the Israeli occupation forces,” Nijim said.
Further, a freer hand in Washington could both unleash Netanyahu’s settler-heavy coalition for escalated land grabs and settlement construction, and spark increased levels of Palestinian resistance to expropriation and displacement.
“It alters the Palestinian landscape and national struggle if it gives Netanyahu cover to make real moves on the West Bank,” Abudayyeh said.
“That will be resisted strongly by all Palestinian forces, just like all the forces resist Israel’s attacks on Gaza. The national struggle is still very much a unified one, in terms of the people themselves and their resistance to apartheid, occupation, and colonization.”