Donald Trump with Benjamin Netanyahu at their meeting on September 25, 2016, in New York

Perhaps the main losers of the American election, besides Donald Trump’s own voters, are the Palestinians. Meaning, of course, that the Israelis are among the big winners. Trump, who supported Netanyahu actively in the 2013 Israeli election, has already invited him to meet “at the first opportunity.” His advisor on Israel, ambassador-designate David Friedman, an Orthodox Jew who the Israeli press positions to the right of Netanyahu, lost no time in announcing that settlements are “legal”. Trump, he continued, has no problem if Israel continues to build, or even if it decides to annex the West Bank. The US Embassy will be moved to Jerusalem, said Friedman, reaffirming one of Trump’s election promises.

Needless to say, Netanyahu is ecstatic. His government is already rolling out extensive plans for infrastructural construction in the occupied West Bank, including some 7,000 housing units in East Jerusalem. “Trump’s victory is a tremendous opportunity for Israel to immediately announce its intention to renege on the idea of establishing Palestine in the heart of the country – a direct blow to our security and the justice of our cause,” declared Naftali Bennet, a senior cabinet minister. “Salient, simple and clear. The era of the Palestinian state is over.”

It is indeed a new game. This does not mean that even a Trump administration will formally declare the end of the two-state solution – the president-elect has said that he would like to make the “ultimate deal” – but his approach will likely be one of non-intervention. Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a preliminary evaluation of what Trump’s policies will be towards the Israeli/Palestinian issue, concluded: “As part of his minimal interest in foreign affairs, Trump doesn’t see the Middle East as a good investment and it’s reasonable to assume he will seek to reduce American involvement in the region,” the fight against Daesh aside. “The diplomatic process between Israel and the Palestinians will not be a top priority for the Trump Administration,” the position paper continues, “and it’s reasonable to assume this topic will also be influenced by the staff surrounding him and developments in the field. Trump’s declarations do not necessarily point to a coherent policy on this issue. On the one hand he has expressed support for the settlements and for moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, but in other statements he said that he wants to remain neutral and that the two sides should reach a deal themselves.”

Indeed, the ministry characterises Trump’s position on international affairs as “isolationist”. Israel takes great comfort in noting that Jason Dov Greeblatt, another Orthodox Jew and fervent supporter of Israel, has been appointed as Trump’s Representative for International Negotiations.

The Trump administration’s policy towards Israel/Palestine

Where the Trump administration is likely to go is detailed in an authorised joint statement put out by Friedman and Greenblatt a few days after the election. Trump’s policy towards Palestine/Israel, they suggest, will be guided by the following principles:

  • Military cooperation and coordination between Israel and the US must continue to grow.
  • The US should veto any UN resolution that unfairly singles out Israel and oppose efforts to delegitimise Israel.
  • The US should view the effort to boycott, divest from, and sanction (BDS) Israel as inherently anti-Semitic and take strong measures to thwart it. The false notion that Israel is an occupier should be rejected.
  • The Trump administration will ask the Justice Department to investigate intimidation of students on college campuses who support Israel.
  • The Palestinian leadership has undermined any chance for peace with Israel by raising generations of Palestinian children on an educational programme of hatred of Israel and Jews, as well as by espousing such hatred on Palestinian television, in the press and in political and religious communications. A two-state solution is impossible as long as the Palestinians are unwilling to renounce violence against Israel or recognise Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.
  • We [the US] will seek to assist the Israelis and the Palestinians in reaching a comprehensive and lasting peace, to be freely and fairly negotiated between those living in the region. But the US cannot support the creation of a new state where terrorism is financially incentivised, terrorists are celebrated by government institutions and the corrupt diversion of foreign aid is rampant. The US should not support the creation of a state that forbids the presence of Christian or Jewish citizens.
  • The US should support direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians without preconditions, and will oppose all efforts to bypass direct negotiations between parties in favour of an imposed settlement, including by the UN Security Council. Israel’s maintenance of defensible borders is a necessity.
  • The US will recognise Jerusalem as the eternal and indivisible capital of the Jewish state and Mr Trump’s administration will move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.

In other words, the US will not interfere in the Israeli government’s efforts to negotiate a solution, which amounts to non-interference in Israeli settlement expansion and annexation as long as it continues to give lip-service to negotiations towards a two-state solution. This translates into de facto support for Israeli apartheid.

Between bad faith and futile conflict management: the Security Council vote, Kerry’s speech and Netanyahu’s response

The 23 December vote in the UN Security Council regarding Israeli policies in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) highlights the fundamental shortcoming of international diplomacy: the futility of conflict management. The resolution “urges” Israel to cease illegal settlement construction, unilateral annexation, house demolitions and land expropriation, but it contains no sanctions on Israel if it ignores or violates these requirements, which the Israeli government announced immediately it would do. Indeed, the resolution also calls on Israel to abide by the Fourth Geneva Convention. Ironically, if Israel was actually made to conform to that convention, the entire occupation would collapse under its very illegality. The convention contains sanctions and mechanisms (such as a tribunal) that governments could invoke if they sincerely wish to end the Israeli occupation and resolve the conflict, but they are not applied. Knowing that without sanctions Israel will continue its century-long process of “Judaising” Palestine unhindered, the 15 members of the Security Council have guaranteed (with a nod and a wink towards Israel) that Resolution 2334 is a dead-letter.

The futility and bad faith of conflict management was revealed once again in John Kerry’s speech of 28 December. Although critical of Israel and its settlement enterprise, it, too, was based on the defunct two-state solution; defunct not because it could not be attained logistically, but because conflict management means that the will to force Israel out of the OPT is completely lacking. Kerry even expressed opposition to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS). As long as the international community lacks the will to force Israel out of the OPT and sanctions are ruled out, Israel wins.

Yet the Security Council vote – 14-0, with one abstention (the US) – does demonstrate one encouraging fact: how much the international community can be mobilised in support of the Palestinians and, indeed, how weak Israel’s position actually is. It also highlights two crucial corollaries: (1) neither governments nor people abroad can or will formulate a truly just resolution. That must come from us, Palestinian civil society and its Israeli allies; and (2) genuine conflict resolution on the basis of national self-determination, international law, human rights and justice is contingent on whether Palestinians and their Israeli allies galvanise and lead as one their “mobilisable” supporters abroad, civil society and governments. No matter how committed to a just resolution our supporters abroad may be, they cannot act effectively unless we provide direction, which we have failed and are failing to do. The events of the past week are our wake-up call. We can prevail, but we have to be smart, strategic and pro-active.

Where does this leave us? Towards a pro-active programme for a just peace

So what should we – Palestinians and Israelis dedicated to ending oppression and achieving justice – do together with our legions of supporters abroad?

Most urgently, critical Palestinian and Israeli groups and activists must sit down to evaluate the new political situation, to strategise and, most importantly, to begin hammering out the outlines of a just solution. If the two-state solution is dead and gone, and if the one apartheid state that exists de facto from the Mediterranean Sea to the River Jordan is unacceptable, only one solution seems open: the transformation of the one apartheid state created by Israel into a bi-national, democratic state with equal rights for all of its citizens. The principles upon which such a solution could be based are clear:

  1. A just peace must accept the bi-national reality of Palestine/Israel and find a balance between collective rights (self-determination) and individual rights (democracy). The national identities of Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews, both seeking self-determination in a common land, cannot be ignored or denied if a workable, substantially just resolution to the conflict is to be realised. If this principle is accepted by both parties, the process of constructing an inclusive yet bi-national society is eminently possible.
  2. A just peace and the negotiations leading up to it must conform to human rights, international law and UN resolutions in respect to both the collective and individual rights of both peoples. If power negotiations alone determine the outcome, Israel wins and the conflict becomes irresolvable.
  3. A just peace requires that the refugee issue be resolved fully. This requires Israeli acceptance of the refugees’ right of return as set down in UN General Assembly resolution 194; Israeli acknowledgement of its responsibility in creating the refugee issue, a symbolic act upon which closure and eventual reconciliation depends; and only then technical solutions involving mutually agreed-upon combinations of repatriation, resettlement elsewhere and financial compensation.
  4. A just peace must be economically viable. All the citizens of Palestine/Israel must have equal access to the country’s basic resources and economic institutions. Once viable economic and political structures are in place, the Palestinian Diaspora will invest in the country, supporting in particular the Palestinian sector, a source of economic parity seldom taken into account.
  5. A just peace must address the security concerns of all in the region, and not, as of now, solely of Israel.
  6. A just peace must be regional in scope. Palestine/Israel is too small a unit to address such regional issues as refugees, water, security, economic development and the environment. And it cannot function properly as long its regional environment is one of conflict. Any workable peace in Palestine/Israel is dependent upon regional stability and development.

These principles lead to a win-win resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They offer direction. Our rallying cry could be: BDS4BDS. Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions for a Bi-national, Democratic State.

In the end, it is up to us. Trump may permit unchecked settlement construction and even the annexation of Area C, but he will continue to pay lip-service to the two-state solution, as did all his predecessors these past 50 years. Whether we end up with apartheid dressed up as a two-state solution or an international protectorate over the cells in the OPT in which the Palestinians are imprisoned does not depend on Trump. He would be comfortable with either option. It depends, rather, on whether we, the stakeholders, Palestinians and Israelis together, can formulate a vision of our own of what a just peace would look like, and effectively lead our allies abroad towards genuine conflict resolution. Time is of the essence. We would do well to start today.