Editorial

End of the American Excuse

From now on, responsibility for the nature of the policy and achieving the deal rests on Netanyahu alone.

U.S. President Donald Trump (R) greets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a joint news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 15, 2017.
U.S. President Donald Trump (R) greets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a joint news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 15, 2017. KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS

“I am looking at two states or one state, and I like the one that both parties like,” Donald Trump blithely told his guest, Benjamin Netanyahu. “I can live with either one.” What exactly did Trump mean by this? And what is he hinting at when he says that Israel will have to “hold back” on building in the territories?

There’s something for everyone in the dizzying array of interpretations of Trump’s words. Some will seize on the hope that his intimations about compromises that Israel will have to make mean that pressure will be applied, and others will view the very same words as giving Israel license to do as it pleases in the territories. Trump seems to have invited Netanyahu for a meeting before he amassed enough knowledge to form his own policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

However, the U.S. president is not being tested on his knowledge of the subject. He can change his positions, receive advice from any person or country, and alter his decisions at will. The Israeli prime minister, though, is obligated to the Israeli public and the country he leads.

For Trump, “two states or one state” may be all the same, but for Israel, it is an existential question. And it’s a bit rich for Trump, who is so anxious about a Muslim or Hispanic invasion of his country that he’s trying to stop it with executive orders and a fortified wall, to be the one suggesting the one-state solution to Israel.

The Israeli government, some of whose members are keen to pounce on the annexation idea, cannot adopt the one-state idea without taking into account that this means granting equal rights to all, and thus would spell the end of the Zionist idea. A prime minister who insists that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jews in a peace agreement cannot in the same breath embrace the one-state idea, even if it was just given a dubious American seal of approval.

Netanyahu received from Trump all the backing he needs to carry out any policy he chooses, just as long as it produces a “deal.” The American president can no longer be used as an excuse. From now on, responsibility for the nature of the policy and achieving the deal rests on Netanyahu alone. If he surrenders to the settlers of Habayit Hayehudi and Likud, he could deal a mortal blow to the two-state solution and lead Israel down a steep slope that ends who knows where.