There are other potential explanations for the administration’s decisions, including domestic politics, the president’s determination to live up to those of his campaign pledges that appeal to his natural base, and his team’s desire to align U.S. policies more closely with those of Netanyahu. But give the team at least this much credit: In its relentless, dogged assault against the foundations of traditional U.S. and international policy, it has shown remarkable single-mindedness and sense of purpose.
Its first target has been the two-state solution itself. The essence of the approach pursued by the three prior administrations (not to mention several Israeli governments) has been to promote such an outcome, based on the 1967 borders, with territorial modifications meant to address Israeli concerns. This, the current administration has stubbornly refused to endorse. Even if it eventually does so, its reluctance will have delivered a plain message: Palestinians are not necessarily entitled to a state of their own, and Palestinian statehood ought not to be viewed as the natural or inevitable outcome of this process.
The same goes for the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. It has moved its embassy there. It is acknowledging Israel’s long, deep historical and religious attachment to the city. It has done nothing of the sort for the Palestinians. True, it has said that Jerusalem’s ultimate borders and questions of sovereignty are subject to negotiation. Again, however, the meaning is inescapable: In the hierarchy of claims to the holy city, one side’s is indisputable and sacred. The other’s is negotiable and worldly.
Finally, there is its policy with respect to Palestinian refugees. Not content with defunding UNRWA, the organization that deals with Palestinian refugees, it has gone further, casting doubt on the salience of the refugee issue itself and claiming the number of refugees recognized by UNRWA is highly inflated. Last week, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, went so far as to suggest that the right of return—the Palestinian aspiration that refugees and their descendants be allowed to return to their homes within the pre-1967 borders of Israel—was now off the table.
Even in their most far-reaching proposals, no previous administration had genuinely endorsed the Palestinian narrative on any of these issues. The Palestinian state the U.S. has been ready to contemplate always came with caveats galore, so that its attributes were significantly less than those habitually associated with statehood. Limitations on its sovereignty tended to include lack of control over its airspace, demilitarization, restrictions on the parties with which it could enter into alliances, and acceptance of Israel’s right to intervene when it deemed it necessary. The future Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem would not include Jewish settlements that, since 1967, have been established in its midst, and it would not exert full sovereignty over the city’s holy sites. As for the return of refugees, the U.S. viewed it more as a matter of paying lip service than of implementing a right. A small number of Palestinians could reside in Israel, most would resettle in Palestine or in third countries, all would be compensated and their suffering acknowledged in some manner—and the world would describe the outcome as having upheld the right of return.
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