Trump’s Turn from Two-State Solution Sows Crisis for Fatah, Hamas

A one-state solution threatens the Palestinian government’s raison d’etre, framed in the Oslo Agreements as an intermediary step towards an independent Palestinian state, explains TRNN correspondent Shir Hever

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Story Transcript

KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Kim Brown in Baltimore.

Following the joint press conference of Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu last week, many are still trying to decipher what exactly came out of it. Especially explosive was the statement by President Trump, which was received with enthusiasm by Netanyahu, that the two-state solution is no longer the only political goal of the United States in the region. Let’s hear his exact words.

DONALD TRUMP: So, I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I could live with either one. I thought for a while the two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two, but honestly, if Bibi, and if the Palestinians, if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best.

KIM BROWN: This sends a clear message to the Israeli government that it has a choice. Now, many senior members of the Israeli government are openly saying that the occupied West Bank, or parts of it at least, should be immediately annexed, by the State of Israel, but what about the Palestinian government? In the last few days it has said very little about the press conference. The PLO Secretary General, Saeb Erekat, issued a quick statement.

SAEB EREKAT: What Netanyahu is thinking about, the one-state, two-state systems? The military government imposed on Palestinians, is apartheid. This is not doable in the 21st century. This is not sustainable in the 21st century. So, undermining the two-state solution will spill disaster on Palestinians and Israelis, and that’s the truth.

KIM BROWN: Joining us now from Germany is our The Real News Network correspondent, Shir Hever, to talk about this, Shir, welcome.

SHIR HEVER: Thanks for having me, Kim.

KIM BROWN: Shir, let’s be kind of clear, or as clear as we can, about what came out of that press conference with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Donald Trump. Because as you said, Netanyahu seemed extremely enthusiastic about what Trump was saying. So, what did Trump firmly say, regarding the Israel-Palestine two-state solution from the United States perspective?

SHIR HEVER: Well, President Trump does not speak very firmly and clearly on any subject, almost. He always seems to make all kinds of comments and protect himself. But in this case, he made a pretty clear departure from the White House policy, foreign policy, of the last 20-something years at least, which called for no other solution, no other political direction, than the two-state solution.

And now he’s saying, well, we could entertain other ideas, as well. And he’s stating this all kind approach, that whatever people there will decide, he’s okay with, and which kind of means less intervention in the Middle East, by the United States. We’re going to have to see if that’s really what his intentions are.

But at the same time, when he’s making statements, like the United Nations has treated Israel unfairly, it means that, at least on the rhetoric level, he’s still going to support Israel 100%. And that is, of course, a very dangerous signal to Palestinians, who are becoming completed isolated.

KIM BROWN: In the last couple of days there were about three articles in Al-Monitor, two in the Middle East Eye, and one in Al Jazeera, all trying to answer the question, what will the Palestinian government do next? So, Shir, what do they have planned to do next?

SHIR HEVER: Indeed, that’s a very big question, because they almost said nothing about this press conference, and this very abrupt shift in policy coming from the United States. We would expect the Palestinian government to be up in arms about this, especially that, if indeed the two-state solution would not be pursued anymore, that means there will be no Palestinian government anymore.

All these people will lose their jobs. Basically, the whole reason to exist of the Palestinian government is framed in the Oslo Agreements, as an intermediary step towards an independent Palestinian state, would be established alongside Israel. If there is no Palestinian state in the future, then what we’re going to see actually, is a different political arrangement within Israel -– sorry, within the Palestinian society –- where they would have to try to integrate into the Israeli political system. Whether they would be allowed to do that, is a different question.

KIM BROWN: So, at the same time Netanyahu was in Washington, the Fatah Party appointed a new deputy to President Mahmoud Abbas, Mahmoud al-Aloul. Now, he was appointed to replace Marwan Barghouti –- I hope I’m pronouncing his name correctly –- who was a prisoner in an Israeli jail. And the argument was, that Barghouti could not hold the position from prison. So the timing, however, is pretty peculiar. Why was it important to have Mahmoud al-Aloul appointed now? Is this in any way a response to what was going on in Washington?

SHIR HEVER: I think it was. I think the Fatah Party could have easily waited a week, or announced the appointment a week before. Everybody knows that Marwan Barghouti is in the Israeli jail, and he’s not getting out any time soon. So, there are no surprises there.

I think the Palestinian government, and the Fatah Party as well, which is currently the ruling government –- the ruling party –- they see what’s going on, and they are very concerned, and their reaction is to turn inwards. They are restructuring the Fatah Party. That’s also part of their strategy to pursue a unity government with the Hamas Party. And that unity government has already been announced, or the plans to have it, had been announced in Moscow, and we’ve covered that in The Real news.

But they’re not really ready to actually go ahead with the elections, and to start this unity government, so they are restructuring the party, appointing Mahmoud al-Aloul. He has this sort of reputation as a more of a hardliner, somebody mentioned, regarding Trump’s statements about moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, that the Palestinian people will not accept it, and they will make every sacrifice to protect Jerusalem.

But other than that, he’s not particularly famous, and not very well known for his political work, except that he was the former governor of Nablus…

KIM BROWN: At the same time, the Hamas Party is also concerned with internal appointments, rather than with foreign policy. Last week, Hamas appointed Yahya Sinwar, as the new head of the Hamas, in Gaza. How do you explain this, Shir? How is Yahya Sinwar relevant in Hamas’s position to the United States, in their new approach to Israel-Palestine?

SHIR HEVER: Yahya Sinwar just received a major promotion. He was the liaison between the political, and the military arms of the Hamas Party, and now he’s going to be in charge of the Gaza Strip, on behalf of the Hamas Party. And since Hamas rules the Gaza Strip, that gives him quite a lot of power in this very small area, over 2 million Palestinians who live there, and he also has a reputation of a hardliner. He’s coming from the military wing of Hamas, and that is actually unprecedented, that Hamas is appointing somebody from the military wing, to a civilian position. And that is seen as maybe a direction of Hamas, further in the direction of armed struggle.

I think the Hamas Party has had a very clear line over the last couple of years, where they said the armed struggle is the only way for Palestinians to fight for their freedom, because the world has abandoned us, because we have no allies, or no significant allies in the world. So, we’re going to have to use arms against the far superior military adversary –- the Israeli army.

Hamas does not have anywhere near the power of the Israeli army, but they’re saying, with perseverance, we will eventually be able to win our freedom, and the majority of the Palestinian people do not accept that position. The majority of Palestinians, not just the Fatah Party, but also the other parties are saying, look; we have to find any possible way, to win our freedom without resorting to armed struggle, because in the armed struggle we have such a terrible disadvantage.

And the fact that Trump is now basically saying, I’m happy with whatever the parties are happy with, in other words, you can keep fighting each other, and I’m going to stay out of it. Then this is a message that strengthens the Hamas position within the Palestinian political system. So, among Palestinians, now Hamas are able to say, look, we were right all along. We have been vindicated by Trump’s politics. If we don’t now arm ourselves and proceed with the armed struggle, then the United States is just going to prevent the world from protecting us from Israeli aggression.

Like Trump said, the UN should not unfairly –- in Trump’s words -– target Israel, and that means that the Palestinians have to fend for themselves. So that can certainly explain why they now appointed Yahya Sinwar.

KIM BROWN: But, Shir, many Palestinians are not shy about showing their direct support for the one-state solution, which Trump mentioned. But their vision of the one state and Netanyahu’s vision, are the same. I don’t think that they are. So, in what way is the situation, right now, not one state already, actually?

SHIR HEVER: Well, there is one sovereign state, and the whole area controlled by Israel, and that includes the West Bank, includes the Gaza Strip, and the Syrian Golan Heights, and of course, the legitimate State of Israel in the middle. And all of that area is now controlled by one government, which controls the taxes, the army, entrances and exits, who can be a citizen, and so on.

The border is everything. And for many in the Israeli government, well, the vast majority in the Israeli government, and the Israeli public, they say, well, let’s just keep that situation as it is. This is the situation that Saeb Erekat called an apartheid situation, and he’s absolutely right.

Now, what we see is emerging in the Israeli government, are more voices that say, well, in order to stabilize the situation, maybe we have to allow some Palestinians the right to vote. And that means that annexing the West Bank, or parts of the West Bank, would also make the Israeli state larger, but also the Israeli political society larger. That means Palestinians will be allowed to join this political structure –- which of course, means the death sentence of the Palestinian government.

Now, there are, however, many Palestinians, especially that are very prevalent among Palestinians in the Diaspora. There are many Palestinian refugees, and their children, and grandchildren, who live all around the world. And they are saying, yes; let’s have a democratic state in the whole area. That means that all the Palestinians who have equal rights, full citizenship and the right to vote. Which would turn Israel, or by whatever name it chooses to continue to exist — it could also change its name — but even if we still call it Israel, it would become a democratic state, and no longer an apartheid state.

KIM BROWN: Shir, just before the press conference, Netanyahu announced that a new colony will be established, and thousands of houses will be built, and existing illegal colonies. Some senior Palestinian politicians saw this as justification to make an appeal to the International Court of Justice, in The Hague. Why haven’t they made this appeal, as of yet?

SHIR HEVER: This promise by Netanyahu to start a new colony, he reiterated it after the press conference with Trump, even though, at the press conference Trump pointed to him and said, you’re going to stop with construction of colonies for a while -– he called them settlements -– and Netanyahu had no choice but to agree, because in that context you don’t start arguing with the president of the United States.

But then he goes back home to Israel, and announces that he’s going to build these colonies anyway. So, of course, Palestinians have every justification to go to the International Court, and the law is on their side. And that would put Israel in a very difficult position, because senior Israeli politicians would become suspects of a war crime.

However, there have been some senior members of the White House who contacted the Palestinian government and told them, that if they pursue this line, they will lose all funding from the United States. Right now, the United States is not the biggest donor, and not the biggest funder of the Palestinian government, but they do play a very important role in funding the Palestinian government’s security apparatus, their armed vehicles, their weapons, their training and so on.

So, when it comes to things like schools and clinics, sanitation, that part is mostly covered by other means. But the security costs of maintaining the Palestinian government, and maintaining its political stability, much of it is covered by the United States. If the United States withdraws the money, the Palestinian government might just be overwhelmed by local public rage, and by protests of people demanding a better representation of their political desires, and the senior management of the Palestinian government are very concerned about this.

So, at the moment, they seem to be just following the directions from Washington, and they’re afraid to make any move. But, of course, in the long run, this further erodes their legitimacy in the eyes of the Palestinian people.

KIM BROWN: Indeed. We have been speaking with our Real News correspondent Shir Hever, joining us today from Germany. Shir, we appreciate your reporting today. Thank you.

SHIR HEVER: Thank you very much for having me.

KIM BROWN: And thank you for watching The Real News Network.

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