If finding a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict weren’t difficult enough, the Trump Administration and the Netanyahu government seem hell-bent on making this already bad situation even worse.
Sensing that the Trump era will soon be over, members of his team and the Israelis are racing against the clock to implement new “facts on the ground” that will, they hope, permanently alter the political landscape in Israel’s favour.
In just the last month, Israel:
- announced plans to add 1,257 settlement housing units – located on Palestinian land in an area that would permanently sever Bethlehem from Jerusalem;
- announced another 4,948 settlement units, most between Ramallah and Nablus, thickening the settler presence in the heart of the West Ban;
- demolished entire Palestinian villages and seized Palestinian homes and properties in areas Israel covets for expansion and control – in Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley, and the northern West Bank;
- stepped up demolition of European Union funded projects (schools, field hospitals, etc.) serving Palestinians; and
- announced a plan to “legalise” 1,700 settlement units that were previously built without permits, while proceeding to demolish Palestinian homes that were also built without permits.
During this same period, the Trump Administration:
- took steps to further legitimise the Israeli occupation by announcing that henceforth US assistance to Israel can be earmarked for West Bank settlements. This announcement came during the US Ambassador to Israel’s visit to Ariel – a controversial colony in the heart of the West Bank;
- had Secretary of State Mike Pompeo make a formal visit to a West Bank settlement – a first for a US Secretary of State – where he announced that products made in Israeli settlements could be sold in the US labelled “Made in Israel;” and
- in an effort to silence critics of Israel, Pompeo also announced plans to designate the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement as anti-Semitic and to call respected human rights groups as “anti-Semitic” – since both have been critical of violations of Palestinian human rights.
All of these moves combined serve to deepen Israeli control over the occupied territories – a form of “creeping annexation”.
And the Trump Administration’s changes in policy toward Jerusalem, Israel’s entire settlement enterprise, and the changed nomenclature now used to describe the occupied lands amount to recognising Israeli sovereignty in those territories thereby implementing the underpinnings of the “Deal of the Century”.
All of this puts the incoming Biden Administration in a bind because the damage now being done is real and will make their pledge to return to the status quo ante more difficult to achieve.
Blame for this state of affairs belongs to successive US administrations, all of whom have been, in varying degrees, complicit in Israel’s acquisitiveness. For decades, the US turned a blind eye or neglected to take effective measures to restrain Israel’s settlement expansion in Palestinian lands. They sinned by omission. The pro-settlement agenda pursued by the Trump Administration, however, has amounted to a more grievous sin of commission.
The past two decades of failed policies created a number of deformities that make the future of a two-state solution difficult to even envision. The territories that were to have been dedicated to the future Palestinian State have been cut into pieces by settlements, infrastructure, and Jewish-only roads connecting them to each other and Israel proper.
Years of enabling and coddling settlement enterprise has so emboldened Israeli hardliners that politics in that country have moved dramatically rightward while shrinking the size of the peace camp to a tiny fraction of Israel’s political map. As a result, it is impossible to see how any coalition government could emerge in coming years that would be willing to make peace with Palestinians that would include a sovereign, contiguous, and viable Palestinian state.
At the same time, the US’ acquiescence to Israel’s disgraceful, abusive treatment of the Palestinians weakened the credibility of Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, while empowering and emboldening Hamas’ consolidation of power in the Gaza Strip. And finally, the erratic, often incoherent, and always pro-Israel US policies towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict discredited the US role as the main party responsible for achieving a just peace.
These, then, are the main challenges to a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that will confront the incoming Biden Administration.