Trump and Palestine
By Nayyer Ali MD
It’s been almost 25 years since the Oslo Process began direct negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians to end the almost 100-year-old conflict between them. In that time, the Palestinians have achieved little, while the Israelis have built thousands of more settler homes in Palestinian land in an effort to prevent the creation of Palestine as a nation. Three times there have been serious attempts to create a final settlement, in Bill Clinton’s last year at Camp David, in 2007 with Abbas and Olmert negotiating, and in 2014 with Obama and Kerry trying to push forward a settlement. They all foundered on the unwillingness of the Israelis to give up their illegal settlements and return to the 1967 border (the “Green Line”).
For the last 20 years or so, US policy has been based on the notion that peace will require two states, Palestine and Israel. This “two-state solution” has been the bedrock of US policy, and was even enshrined in a UN Security Council Resolution under George Bush. While the liberal and centrist parties in Israel also accept the necessity of two states, the right wing, which has dominated Israel’s government for the last 20 years, has rejected it. The right wants the Palestinians to go away somehow, and for Israel to annex the West Bank while leaving the Gaza Strip, home to 1.5 million Palestinians, as a large open-air prison. Mirroring this right/left divide in Israel, liberals in the US support the two-state solution, while conservatives side with the right-wing agenda in Israel.
After clashing repeatedly with President Obama over the last eight years, it was with relief that the conservative Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to meet Trump at the White House. What he got was a great gift. Trump backed away entirely from Obama’s harsh criticism of Israeli settlement building, and then in their joint press conference, stated that the US was no longer committed to two states. This was greeted with immense joy in Israel among the right, who saw this as a green light to continue the subjugation of the Palestinians and to build even more settlements.
The reason why most people think that a two-state solution is the only way to go is the changing demographics of Jews and Palestinians. In 1948, there were 2 million people living in Palestine, 650,000 Jews and about 1.3 million Palestinians. Israel was created despite the opposition of the Palestinian majority, so much for democracy. Since then several million Jews have moved to Israel, while the Palestinians have multiplied through natural increase. Despite the fact that large numbers of Palestinian refugees ended up in other countries, many Palestinians remained, including a small number that were inside Israel, and were eventually given citizenship in 1965.
Today there are about 6 million Jews and 1.5 million Palestinians that are Israeli citizens. Under the age of 15 there are 1.5 million Jews and 500,000 Palestinians. Fertility has been falling for the Palestinians and rising for Jews in the last 15 years, currently Total Fertility Rate (TFR, the number of children born to the average woman) is about 3.1 for Jews and 3.3 for Palestinians in Israel.
Looking at the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, there are 4.6 million Palestinians, meaning that the total including Israel is about 6 million Jews and 6 million Palestinians. But in the West Bank the TFR is almost 4 and in Gaza it is almost 5, so that combined the total population under the age of 15 is 1.55 million. The total including Israel is that under the age of 15 there are over 2 million Palestinians and 1.5 million Jews. What we have here is a recipe for apartheid, with one community enjoying full legal, civil, economic, and political rights, and another subjugated and oppressed, with most not even having any citizenship. It is a part of the UN Declaration of Human Rights that all people can participate in the government that is sovereign over them. If Israel allowed that, the Palestinians would have the majority. To avoid that Israel must go on oppressing the Palestinians forever.
In the real world, most observers know that this cannot last. Eventually the rest of the world will demand an end to the subjugation of the Palestinians. Most countries around the world have legally recognized Palestine, and the UN General Assembly voted to recognize Palestine as a nation. The rise of Muslim communities in Europe will place democratic pressure on their governments to sanction Israel until it ends its version of apartheid. In the US, the Jewish community is slowly shrinking, while Muslims are growing, and demographers expect Muslims to be larger in size within 20-30 years. This is why most liberal Jews want Israel to pull back from the occupied territories and allow the Palestinians their own state. But the Israeli right-wing, which has run the government for most of the last 20 years, wants to keep the West Bank and build more and more illegal settlements on land confiscated from the Palestinians.
President Obama tried to push the Israelis into peace, forcing Netanyahu to verbally endorse two-states, but in reality Netanyahu refused to make peace. Last year Secretary of State John Kerry put together a major diplomatic initiative in which he got major Arab states, including the Saudis, to agree to a peace deal with Israel in exchange for a withdrawal from the Palestinian territories and the creation of Palestine. He even got the Arab side to concede that no Palestinian refugees would be allowed to return to their homes in Israel they were expelled from in the ethnic cleansing of 1948, when Israel was created and the Palestinians dispossessed. But Netanyahu refused to make peace. It showed the true nature of Netanyahu and the right wing in Israel. They have no interest in a just settlement with the Palestinians.
President Trump so far has been completely on the side of Netanyahu. He refused to endorse the two-state solution, nor does he speak up for the rights of Palestinians to have citizenship in Israel if they are not to have their own nation. There are many ethnic minorities around the world that suffer oppression at the hands of their government. The Tibetans in China, the Kashmiri in India, the Kurds in Turkey, the Chechens in Russia and many others can be cited. The difference for all of them is that they are legal citizens of their countries, and they have the right to life and property and a passport, and can move freely within their country. They can start a business or take a job wherever they want. This is not true for the occupied Palestinians. Their stateless status is unique and intolerable and must end.
While Trump will do nothing for the Palestinians I hope the next Democratic President will take the strong action needed. Israel, left to its own devices, will never give up control of the Palestinians. The only way this conflict ends is when the US makes clear to Israel that it must accept reasonable terms, or the US will recognize Palestine and apply sanctions until Israel relents. I had hoped Obama might take such strong action in his last year, but with the tremendous mess in Iraq and Syria, and the need to destroy ISIS, Obama did not have the ability to do this too.