The two-state solution — the lifeblood of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process — suffered a serious setback in the recent meeting between President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The two leaders met for the first time in person to discuss the future of one of the world’s most crucial relationships. Trump reaffirmed his staunch support of Israel by breaking with longstanding U.S. support of the two-state solution, putting the future of the peace process in jeopardy.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 15, 2017
The two-state solution was the result of a series of intense negotiations in the 1990s that culminated in the Oslo Accords in 1993. Oslo didn’t immediately create a Palestinian state, but it guaranteed the future establishment of one based in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital. In return, Palestinians recognized the right of Israel to exist in peace and security.
Starting in Bill Clinton’s administration, the two-state solution has been a central component of the United States’ strategy dealing with Israel and Palestine. Both the Bush and Obama administrations supported the two-state solution, recognizing it as the only proposal with a reasonable chance of creating a just, fair, and lasting peace.
The bright outlook of the 1990s dimmed with the continuation of systematic Israeli settlement expansion into the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Each of the three post-Oslo U.S. presidential administrations denounced settlement activity as a major impediment to peace. The international community went a step further and condemned it as a flagrant violation of international law.
Israeli expansion chews away at land specifically designated to a Palestinian state, making the agreement outlined in the Oslo Accords almost impossible to achieve.
The future of the two-state solution took another major hit during Wednesday’s meeting between Trump and Netanyahu.
During the meeting, Trump stated that he’s “looking at two state [solutions] and one state [solutions], I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one.” Prior to this meeting, the two-state solution was concrete, non-negotiable, and reinforced by decades of international support. Trump’s comments indicate that he is willing to reconsider the fundamental component of the peace agreement.
If the two-state solution is renegotiated, Israel would have the upper hand because its expropriation of land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has made it significantly stronger than it was in the 1990s. A strengthened bargaining position gives it the ability to negotiate from a position of power, allowing it to deal the two-state solution its fatal blow.
Commenting on the settlements themselves, Trump did issue a degree of criticism, telling Netanyahu to “hold back on settlements for a little bit.” But “a little bit” isn’t enough. The UN Security Council condemns all Israeli settlement activity as illegal and threatening to peace. If Donald Trump is serious about creating lasting peace between Israel and Palestine—and according to him, he is—then he cannot continue to support one side at the expense of the other.
Despite the promise generated by the Oslo Accords, Israeli encroachment into the West Bank and East Jerusalem has crippled the foundation of the peace process. The two-state solution—once the cornerstone of American policy in the region—is in critical condition now that Trump has made support of a one-state solution a distinct possibility.
Years of steady erosion have left the prospect of a two-state solution in serious doubt, and with it, hope for a just settlement to one of the world’s most deeply divided conflicts.