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Why the U.S. needs Israel to agree to a two-state solution?
Before leaving the White House, President Barrack Obama signed a new financial agreement that guarantees the Israeli government $3.8 billion dollars each year for the next ten years (5-6 Sharp). This amount does include missile defenses, which were not included in the last agreement. The guaranteed figure is only slightly higher than what the United States currently offers, which is $3 billion a year. Though congress had recently added another $500 million to the total making the official commitment $3.5 billion per year. Back in September, this was shocking news that was also ironic. Obama and Israeli’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had what many would call a rocky relationship. This was in part due to Obama’s belief that Netanyahu could establish a two-state solution (Goldberg). To mend US Israeli relations, a new financial agreement was reached between Obama and Netanyahu. “Politically, the spending package was partly a response to the nuclear deal that the United States and other world powers finalized with Iran in July of last year” (Green). Many questioned at the time what the agreement meant for solving the feud that remains in existence between the Israelis and Palestinians. Was the United States now backing down towards the strong commitment to a two-state solution? Peace between both parties remains distant and many are looking up towards the United States to spark meaningful discussion and provide unbiased mediation. These discussions would not only advance U.S. interests, but it would also begin the process of solving a conflict that has affected so many. To properly solve the conflict, Israel will first have to cease settlement activities, take part in talks and agree with a two-state solution. Otherwise the Israel we know today could very well change.
II. Reasons for Change
To fulfill a mediation role, the United States has to be blatantly honest with both Israel and Palestine. The U.S. will need to provide them with substantial reasons to make peace. This can only happen after both sides agree that the United States can competently mediate with the understanding of both party’s wants and needs. Only with this underlying trust can the U.S. successfully bring a fair compromise to both the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Liberation Organization. That is why the comments made by former Secretary of State John Kerry were important late last year. “Friends need to tell each other the hard truths, and friendships require mutual respect” (Stein). His comments contained criticisms over extensive expansion efforts by the Israeli government. Kerry was being brutally honest when he said, “The Israeli prime minister publicly supports a two-state solution, but his current coalition is the most right-wing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by its most extreme elements.” Israeli’s took those comments as an insult. The fact is it’s the truth.
Settlements in the West Bank have been an issue ever since the six-day war in 1967. Jordan, who had control of the west bank, lost it in the war and Israel was either going to annex the land or give it to a new state. As debate dragged on some Israeli Jews moved to the west bank for religious reasons. The international community was against these settlements and continues to be against these settlements. The population within these settlements has risen as depicted by a graph from Americans for Peace Now. In 1990, the Israeli population in the West Bank was around 65,000 people (Zarracina). That number spiked to over 300,000 people in 2010. This massive increase can be explained by the numerous housing benefits Israeli settlers receive in the West Bank. For instance, 31 percent of the Israeli Housing Ministry’s Rural Construction budget in 2011 was used on settlements (The Price of the Settlements). It’s important to note that only 4 percent of Israel’s citizens are settlers (The Price of the Settlements). The Israeli government is not only okay with settlements, but they actively are trying to incentivize citizens to move to settlements. With more Israeli citizens living in the West Bank it becomes increasingly harder for Israel to accept a two-state solution. The settlement issue not only makes it harder for a solution between the Israeli’s and Palestinians, but it also puts the United States in a difficult position internationally.
UN Resolution 2334 states that Israel must, “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and that it fully respect all of its legal obligations in this regard” (2 UN Security Council 2). Israel has no plans of complying with the resolution, which is why their parliament has recently passed a law that seizes land owned by Palestinians for Jewish settlements. With the new Knesset law directly violating UN resolution 2334, it puts the United States in a difficult international position. Therefore, the United States abstained from the UN resolution 2334 vote. Due to the conflict of interest, the United States representative declined to vote but made clear that, “settlements undermined Israel’s security and eroded prospects for peace and stability” (UN Security Council 1). Internationally, this situation makes U.S. foreign policy look negligent. Israel receives 3.8 billion from the U.S., yet they defy UN rulings. The United States government provides no repercussions other than statements that voice our country’s concerns.
The United States does have a great relationship with Israel currently, but that could change under a one state solution. A one state solution may limit the rights of the Israeli Arab population. David Shipler points out in his book, Arab and Jew, that Israel has responded to Arab population concerns before. In 1976 a theory was proven true when funds from the Interior Ministry started to become limited, while rules started to become over bearing in the Israeli town of Migdal in Galilee (405 Shipler). “Out of a fear that the Arab population in the Galilee would soon exceed the number of Jews there, the officials urged that government subsidies to large Arab families be reduced” (405 Shipler). This encouraged many to go abroad and not return. It was also suggested that, “authorities begin a harsh crackdown on Arabs who evade income taxes, that the number of Arab employees in Jewish-owned enterprises be restricted, and that increased surveillance be conducted of the Communist Party and other politically recalcitrant groups” (405 Shipler). This example shows that when Arab population threatened Jewish nationalism, the Israeli government had no problem limiting aid and creating new restrictions that discriminate against Israeli Arabs. A one state solution assumes that Israeli will control all the land and grant full citizenship to all the occupants of that land. With 1.7 million Arabs living in Gaza (World Fact Book Gaza), and 2.1 million living in the West Bank this problem will inevitably arise (World Fact Book West Bank). Israel has a population of 8.1 million people (World Fact Book Israel). Out of those 8.1 million people, 25 percent mostly view themselves as Arabs, meaning the actual Jewish population of Israeli stands just over 6 million Jews (World Fact Book Israel). If Israel accepts a one state solution, the Arab population would rival the Jewish population with 5.8 million Arabs. These numbers should be alarming to Israel, but right wing politicians in Knesset continue to bolster the one state option. This was the point John Kerry was trying to make. Since the Israeli government is a democracy, Arab citizens under a one state solution would be able to vote for their candidates and their interests. This would undoubtedly change the state Israel and may even undermine its Jewish status. Would the Jewish elites allow this to happen?
To answer the question, it’s important to look at the Zionist movement. In the early 1900’s, Jewish people started to agree with the idea that the Jewish people needed their own state. Jews had always been persecuted and many believed this was the only solution to the problem. After World War I, the British Mandate for Palestine allowed Jews to populate the lands. Zionism was cemented as a must after World War II. The holocaust showed not only to the Jews, but the world that these people needed their own Jewish state. The foundation that is Israel rests on the fact that they are a Jewish state. It is the one factor that many believe cannot change. If the Israeli government wants to prevent the inevitable change that would happen under a one state solution, they would have to limit the rights of Arab citizens. Otherwise Israel starts becoming influenced by people they view as their counterparts. Without equal rights for all, Israel suddenly isn’t a democracy. This compromises the United States’ position in the middle east and eliminates the only democracy that exists in the region. Without a democracy, the United States would likely cease relations with the country. This conclusion is based on reasonable assumptions that most likely would transpire. To avoid this scenario a two-state solution is necessary not only for Israel’s sake, but also for the U.S. It’s important to understand what a one state solution could do to Israel and how that might impact the United States.
Currently Israel is on the path towards a one state solution using government funds and resources to promote settlements in the West Bank. The United States needs to step up and tell Israel that there will be consequences if you do not comply with UN law. Acting against international law is a serious offense and it also jeopardizes United States relations towards the international community. Israel depends on the funding received each year from the United States, which is why officials should consider taking that money away. Israel currently has no interest in negotiations. To bring them to the table, you would likely have to take measures against their funding.
Solving the settlement issue is only one step towards peace between Israel and the Palestinian people. With this issue aside, reasonable talks can now occur. The Palestinian Liberation Organization has already agreed to the 1967 borders. Of course, discussion around settlers would ensue as well as issues like Hamas and Gaza. What is crucial though is that discussions would be taking place. The theatrical ball is in Israel’s court. The United States needs to do its part and spark talks that can solve this conflict, which would end years of violence but would also improve U.S. relations in the area. Israel must comply with a two-state solution. Otherwise there will be no talks.
III. Policy Options
A congressional report on Israeli relations, written by Jim Zanotti, was released earlier this year suggesting there could be at least four possible initiatives that congress and President Donald Trump could act on. One action that could be taken is either increase or decrease U.S aid towards Israel and Palestine (CRS REPORT 2017. Another option could be the formation of a U.S. policy towards a two-state solution (CRS REPORT 2017). The United States could rely on the international community like the United Nations to help solve the conflict (CRS REPORT 2017). The final initiative stated in the report states that the U.S. could ask other regional or international actors to help solve the conflict (CRS REPORT 2017). There are a couple of other options the United States has that the congressional report doesn’t touch on. The most obvious option would be to do nothing. Trump and the administrations could ignore the conflict and focus on the other facets that surround U.S. Israel policy. Another option would be to advocate for a one state solution, which above has been stated as a risky option. While there are a lot of options, they can be mixed and matched to formulate the correct approach for the current administration on U.S. Israeli Policy.
The first option, which is likely to happen, is continue to do nothing. Within the congressional report, it explains that early signs within the Trump administration has looked less engaged with regards towards the settlement activities (CRS REPORT 2017). It also says that other relevant actors do not expect the U.S. to intervene (CRS REPORT 2017). Side effects of doing nothing could result in a wide variety of action. With no deal in sight between both sides, doing nothing could result in a third intifada. Hamas and PLO supporters could join forces and attempt to cause havoc for the Israeli government. A third intifada would likely have little impact on the U.S. It would be doubtful that troops would be deployed to aid Israel. There could be a budget proposal that would temporarily give Israel more money to aid in their fight. A doubtful but possible reaction could come from the PLO leadership. With the United States turning a blind eye the PLO may give up and succumb to Netanyahu’s recent demands. First Palestinian leadership must recognize Israel as a Jewish State. Second, agreement that Israel has the right to an indefinite security presence in the Jordan Valley area of the West Bank. This would be extremely unlikely but could be possible. If it does happen you should expect Palestinians to turn against their leadership. Another likely effect is the continuation of settlement building in the West Bank, which only makes a two-solution harder. Doing nothing would be the correct response for the administration if they viewed the conflict as not important, or if they saw no issues with a one-state solution.
Another option is to get Israel to the table to negotiate for a two-state solution. A two-state solution is the plan that is widely praised by the international community. It would create a Palestinian state within the West Bank and Gaza. Choosing this option would likely result in U.S. pressure on the Israeli government. The U.S. could push Israel to negotiate with PLO leadership by providing more money or the promise to cease funding. The Palestinians want to come to the negotiating table and work out a deal, because right now they have nothing. Israel has everything to lose and the Palestinians have nothing to lose. Settlement building into the West Bank would have to come to a halt. Recent settlement building has demonstratively hurt this option. Even if we were to force Israel to the table there would be no guarantee of cooperation. If this option was chosen, the U.S. would likely receive help from the United Nation and its members. It’s important to remember that many Israeli officials are still upset about the result of the Camp David Summit and the second intifada which would follow. The Israeli mindset is, we have tried and they are unwilling to negotiate. Regardless, many countries do not excuse settlement building in the West Bank, which goes against international law. This option would be praised internationally and should be acted on if the Trump administration wants to produce a solid solution.
Another option does exist that would include other regional actors. Theoretically, the option would involve Egypt and Jordan splitting up land that Israel has had since the six day in 1967. Egypt would receive the Gaza Strip and Jordan would get some of the West Bank. This solution assumes that Jordan and Egypt would grant Palestinians citizenship. Jordanian leadership has already expressed opposition towards this plan. Egypt would have to deal with Hamas in Gaza and somehow get them out of the city. Under this plan, Palestinians would receive no state. Israel would probably find this type of a deal attractive but they would have to convince Egypt and Jordan. I doubt they would. It is an interesting proposition though.
Ultimately, the United States should do what is in the best interest of the county. Israel is a crucial asset for the U.S. in the middle east and we must protect them to ensure relations can go on. Obama and Kerry have both admitted that a two-state solution is the only way to ensure an Israeli Jewish democracy. They understand the demographic numbers and how detrimental current settlement actions are. Further development only makes peace talks harder between Israel and the PLO. Obama believed that Netanyahu could agree to peace, but he chose not to. This is the solution that last administration viewed as vital toward the future of Israel. Palestinians are obviously on board with this solution, but in good faith they will need to publicly announce Palestine’s recognition of the Jewish state. Israel will likely need something in exchange for negating. Giving the Israeli government more money is an option that I would like to see. Taking away money that was guaranteed to them would be a move that would only enrage Israel. Giving them more money to come to the table is the most viable option. The international community might be willing to help contribute towards this initiative, which would only put more pressure on Israel. Ideally when negotiating the U.S. and other international countries would attend these talks to provide mediation and council. Hopefully both sides would come to an agreement, but it won’t be without it’s controversies. Both sides want Jerusalem and water resources while they differ on the West Bank settlements. These negations will have to start on the small issues before talking about big issues like Jerusalem. The international community and past U.S. administrations have both agreed that the two-state solution is the best solution for the future of Israel and the Palestinians. It is recommended that the Trump administration act on the two-state solution.
There are multiple ways to look at the problem and there are usually multiple solutions. The two-state solution provides the Palestinian people a home and hopefully provides Israeli’s a peace that has been long overdue. A one state solution would only enrage the Palestinians and test Israel’s humanity. Would they be allowed citizenship? A two-state solution avoids the Israeli government from answering that question. The three-state solution requires Jordan and Egypt to acquire land that they don’t want and people that they don’t want. Israel would likely be more willing to have conversations about this solution rather than others. After examination, the best Israel policy option moving forward is to attempt to solve the issue between the Israeli’s and the Palestinians. Action now can and will prevent the situation from getting worse. Therefore, it is in the best interest of the U.S. to do our part in advancing talks regarding the two-state solution.
- Goldberg, Jeffrey. “The Obama Doctrine.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, Apr. 2016. Web. 14 Feb. 2017. <https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/04/the-obama-doctrine/471525/>. This article focuses in on President Obama’s decision making. For my purposes, it’s extremely valuable to understand these nuggets of information including Obama’s relationship with the Israeli Prime Minister.
- Green, Emma. “Why Does the United States Give So Much Money to Israel.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 15 Sept. 2016. Web. 15 Feb. 2017. <https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2016/09/united-states-israel-memorandum-of-understanding-military-aid/500192/>. This article provides interesting information regarding the United States relationship with Israel. Specifically, it focuses on the financial aspect of previous agreements.
- The Price of the Settlements (2013): 1-32. 2013. Web. 13 Mar. 2017. <https://peacenow.org/WP/wp-content/uploads/Price-of-Settlements-2013-English.pdf>. This booklet showcases the costs and expenditures that occur in settlements on the West Bank. Despite only 4 percent of Israel’s population lives in the West Bank, the government spends massive amounts of money to improve settlements and incentivize them.
- “The World Factbook: GAZA STRIP.” Central Intelligence Agency. Central Intelligence Agency, 12 Jan. 2017. Web. 14 Mar. 2017. <https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/gz.html>. This page provides population data from the Gaza Strip. It also displays other information such as religion information as well as ethnic groups.
- “The World Factbook: ISRAEL.” Central Intelligence Agency. Central Intelligence Agency, 12 Jan. 2017. Web. 14 Mar. 2017. <https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/is.html>. This page shows Israel’s population as well as other important facts. Interestingly, under the ethnic group column, almost 25 percent of the Israeli population is Arab.
- “The World Factbook: WEST BANK.” Central Intelligence Agency. Central Intelligence Agency, 12 Jan. 2017. Web. 14 Mar. 2017. <https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/we.html>. This online page displays population data from the West Bank. This also does display the number of Israeli settlers that in the West Bank.
- Sharp, Jeremy M. “U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel.” Congressional Research Service RL3322 (2016): n. pag. 22 Dec. 2016. Web. 14 Feb. 2017. <https://fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/RL33222.pdf>. This is another Congressional Research report that examines U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel. Jeremy Sharp, Specialist in Middle Eastern affairs, overviews the Israeli defense budget as well as potential budget violations.
- Shipler, David K. “Arab Citizens of the Jewish State.” Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land. New York: Broadway, 2015. 405. Print. This book examines the many events that have transpired throughout the conflict. The section used in the paper focuses on an instance when the Israeli government targeted Arabs due to population increases.
- Stein, Jeff. “Read: John Kerry’s Dramatic Speech Attacking Israel’s Settlement Policy.” Vox. Vox, 28 Dec. 2016. Web. 14 Feb. 2017. <http://www.vox.com/2016/12/28/14103542/john-kerry-israel-speech>. This is an article that provides the transcript for a speech that former Secretary of State John Kerry gave addressing Israeli settlements.
- UN Security Council 1. “Israel’s Settlements Have No Legal Validity, Constitute Flagrant Violation of International Law, Security Council Reaffirms.” United Nations. United Nations, 23 Dec. 2016. Web. 15 Feb. 2017. <https://www.un.org/press/en/2016/sc12657.doc.htm>. This is meeting coverage taken on the United Nations Security Council Meeting on December 23 2016, which was the day UN Resolution 2334 passed. It provides interesting facts on the United States stance.
- UN Security Council 2. “Resolution 2334 (2016).” United Nations Security Council (2016): n. pag. United Nations. 23 Dec. 2016. Web. 14 Feb. 2017. <http://www.un.org/webcast/pdfs/SRES2334-2016.pdf>. This is UN Resolution 2334. The resolution demands that Israel cease settlement activities and relies heavily on 1967 borders and policies.
- Zarracina, Jennifer Williams and Javier. “The Growth of Israeli Settlements, Explained in 5 Charts.” Vox. Vox, 30 Dec. 2016. Web. 14 Mar. 2017. <http://www.vox.com/world/2016/12/30/14088842/israeli-settlements-explained-in-5-charts>. One of the charts shown in the article depicts the rapid increase in settlement population throughout the last 20 years. This data was based on Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics.
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