Last week, Jared Kushner, one of the administration’s point men on the Middle East, dispensed with the term “two-state solution” in its impending peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians. “The two-state solution has failed,” he said.
Not for lack of trying.
The “two-state solution” does not appear in the 1993 Oslo Accords, which called only for “interim self-government” for the Palestinians. The goal was a negotiated final status agreement, in which independence was not specified.
The phrase was intended to create the aura of equality between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority. It was born of the belief that Israel, the strong party, had to offer the Palestinians, the weak party, a certain status — or at least potential status. After that, the Palestinians acquired many of the attributes of statehood — an office in Washington called an “embassy,” a designated U.S. diplomatic facility in Jerusalem called an “embassy” and full status in a number of international organizations.
A “state” next to the State of Israel, seemed only a matter of time.
But acceptance of two ostensibly equal parties had Washington walking a fine line between a democratic friend and a sometimes-semi-reformed terror organization. That was a mistake. Israel is a free, democratic and open society with a free press, and respect for the civil liberties of all its citizens regardless of religion, ethnicity, gender or political opinion. The Palestinian Authority (PA) is not.
In 2002, President Bush tried to square the circle, calling his vision “two states, living side by side in peace and security,” but the Palestinians had obligations.
• Elect new leaders not compromised by terror. “A Palestinian state will never be created by terror.”
• Build a “practicing democracy, based on tolerance and liberty.”
• Reform. “Reform must be more than cosmetic change, or veiled attempt to preserve the status quo. True reform will require entirely new political and economic institutions, based on democracy, market economics and action against terrorism.”
Then came the “ifs” and “whens.”
• “IF the Palestinian people actively pursue these goals, America and the world will actively support their efforts.
• “IF the Palestinian people meet these goals, they will be able to reach agreement with Israel and Egypt and Jordan on security and other arrangements for independence.
• “WHEN the Palestinian people have new leaders, new institutions and new security arrangements with their neighbors, the United States of America will support the creation of a Palestinian state.”
But even then, the “borders and certain aspects of its sovereignty will be provisional until resolved as part of a final settlement in the Middle East.”
That put a substantial burden on the Palestinian leadership — one they have not been able to meet. After 23 years and billions of dollars in international aid, the 2017 Paris Peace Conference acknowledged that the Palestinians still lacked “infrastructure for a viable economy,” cannot manage “service delivery,” and has no “civil society” in PA areas able to express dissent or disapproval of Mahmoud Abbas’s then-12-year (now 14-year and counting) power grab of a four-year presidential term. Gaza under Hamas is worse.
The Trump administration has recognized that the Palestinians are farther than ever from meeting obligations to their own people — not to mention to Israel. So, the administration took itself out of the middle, and moved closer to our natural ally, Israel.
• Moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing the right of a sovereign country to choose its own capital.
• Defunding UNESCO because of its erasure of Jewish patrimony in Israel, including calling the Tomb of the (Jewish) Patriarchs and the Tomb of Rachel “Palestinian” heritage sites.
• Withholding funds from the PA in the amount it was spending on “salaries” for terrorists in Israeli prisons, effectively ending American participation in “Pay for Slay.”
• Defending Israel at the U.N. firmly and without apology.
• Removing the word “occupied” from State Department documents regarding the West Bank in deference to the fact that those territories are disputed and were previously occupied by Jordan.
• Closing the Palestinian “embassy” in Washington.
• Folding the U.S. Jerusalem Consulate, the de facto embassy to the Palestinian Authority, into the U.S. Embassy.
• Recognizing the Golan Heights as sovereign Israeli territory.
But if two states are, in fact, the way to go, there is a mechanism — one the Trump administration is well-placed to use.
U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 of 1967 contains the central ingredient for peace not only between Israel and the Palestinians, but also Israel and the regional states. Resolution 242 requires the Arab States (and the Palestinians by extension) to provide Israel with “termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”
Those were the terms that saw Israel return the Sinai to Egypt, and sign a peace agreement with Jordan. By signing on, the Palestinians will find themselves closer to the “two-state solution” than through any other mechanism. And Israel’s legitimacy and permanence in the region — the sine qua non of its future security — will be assured.
• Shoshana Bryen is senior director of the Washington-based Jewish Policy Center.