No wonder the Israeli Prime Minister looked like his beaming smile had been glued on throughout his recent visit to Washington! That nuisance of a president with a Muslim name was safely out of the way and in his place was a self-ascribed lover of the Jewish state who’s wagged his finger telling Palestinians to stop hating their occupiers/oppressors. Heavenly music to Benjamin Netanyahu’s ears!
Best of all, his old family friend Donald Trump overthrew America’s long-standing two-state policy with a short announcement. “I’m looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like; I can live with either one.” That placed America starkly at odds with the international community until the new US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, rode it back.
Most Palestinians could live with either too, provided one-state translated to one person, one vote and a Palestinian State was built loosely around 1967 borders and enjoyed genuine autonomy. In fact, neither of those options is on Netanyahu’s table. They exist only as mirages created to pacify the Palestinian population with unrealistic hopes, to fool the international community and as time-wasting pretexts permitting Israel to expand Jewish colonies on Palestinian land.
This cruel charade has continued in one form or another since the late Ariel Sharon and George W. Bush held their noses to sign up to the fake ‘Roadmap’ as a sop to America’s Arab allies outraged over the 2003 invasion of Iraq. President Barack Obama may have had high hopes at the beginning of his term, but when he saw the score, he backed off while maintaining the pretence that a two-state solution remains in possibility’s realm.
It’s beyond time this pretence was put to rest and to some extent the joint Netanyahu-Trump press conference has done just that. Trump’s request for Israel to go slow with construction of new Jewish homes was uncharacteristically tentative. His reminder to Netanyahu that a deal would require “flexibility” was met with a grin, missing only a wink. Israel isn’t prepared to sacrifice anything at all. The prime minister and his right-wing cabinet interpret the Bible as a deed permitting Jews to take all of Judea and Samaria, better known as the West Bank.
In the short to medium term, Netanyahu is content with the status quo and will remain so as long as the Palestinian population can be contained without causing too many problems. For him, there is no ideal option at least among those openly talked about rather than discussed behind closed doors.
He might be prepared to contemplate some kind of Palestinian state over which Israel is responsible for security, but wouldn’t that be a virtual clone of Gaza—a territory with no rights over its own borders, airspace or shore line? Palestinians would not accept to be corralled under Israel’s mercy ever again. As for one state, that idea is anathema to most Israelis because if the Palestinian population were given the right to vote, Arabs would outnumber Israelis before long, signifying an end to a Jewish state. And if Palestinians were left disenfranchised then Israel would be neither Jewish nor democratic.
There are others more radical. The leader of Israel’s Zehut Party Moshe Feiglin advocates giving Arabs three options: “The first is voluntary emigration with the aid of a generous emigration grant. The second is permanent residency, similar to the ‘green card’ status in the US . . . The third option will be reserved for relatively few Arabs . . . those who tie their fate to the fate of the Jewish nation . . . can enter a long-term process of attaining citizenship.”
Some prominent Israelis envision Jordan becoming the lynchpin of a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation designed to ensure any Palestinian state or enclave does not fall into the hands of Hamas, Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) or Iran, but there is little appetite in Jordan for taking on such a hefty responsibility which could upset Jordan’s demographic balance. The idea is to attempt to lure the monarch with billions of dollars in investments. Most concerning of all is the concept of the enforced transfer of the Palestinian population that’s been knocking around in one form or another since Israel’s creation but, despite the cleansing of Palestinians from occupied east Jerusalem, has not been implemented wholesale as yet.
It appears that the Netanyahu-Trump duo have ditched old paradigms for something new. “I think our new concept that we’ve been discussing for a while is something that allows them [Israelis] to show more flexibility than they have in the past, because we have a lot bigger canvas to play with.”
What this “bigger canvas” comprises hasn’t been disclosed, but it was interesting that an Israeli minister claimed a Palestinian state on the northern Sinai Peninsula linked to Gaza was being mulled, eliciting strong denials from Egypt’s Foreign Minister and from the Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat, who called it “silly.” Silly is an understatement. Neither people are capable of being convinced.
Egyptians consider every inch of their land to be precious; many lost fathers and grandfathers to the defence of the soil. Likewise the Palestinians will never walk away from the olive groves and orchards cultivated by their ancestors; they will never throw away the rusted keys to houses to which generations have hoped to return. Netanyahu wants it all his own way and I suspect that President Trump will oil his path to getting it, making the road to peace a slipperier slope than it already is.
Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.