As The New York Times reported last week, during a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Donald Trump made an unprecedented comment about the Israel-Palestine conflict, for a U.S. president. “I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with both,” he said.
In response, a furor erupted amongst liberal Zionists. For these two-state solution ideologues, the mere suggestion of shifting away from the decades-old paradigm was anathema and represented an existential crisis. Journalist Thomas Friedman, for example, implored Donald Trump to “save the Jews,” while the editorial board of his paper, The New York Times, declared that, without a two-state solution, “Israel would be confronted with a miserable choice: to give up being a Jewish state — or to give up being a democratic state by denying full voting rights to Palestinians.”
For Israel’s right-wing, however, Trump’s comments were a victory. This group has long advocated for scrapping the idea of a Palestinian state. A February 14 op-ed in The New York Times by an Israeli settler even proposed the idea of voluntary “emigration” for Palestinians – a thinly-veiled proposal of ethnic cleansing – as an alternative to the defunct two-state solution.
But these two Zionist narratives – liberal vs right-wing – are incomplete. Following a pattern that began long before Israel’s founding, Zionists and Western leaders continue to discuss the fate of the Palestinians without considering their views or their rights.
Reacting to Trump’s comments, Palestinian voices have been asserting the right of Palestinians to determine their own future.
Writing in The Nation, Palestinian academic Rashid Khalidi condemned repeated attempts to ignore Palestinian rights and claims:
Once again, the future of Palestine is being decided behind the back of the Palestinians. Once again, they have been made invisible. In 1917, when the Balfour Declaration was being crafted in the British cabinet, Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann had direct access to key decision-makers. It was a privilege not extended to any Palestinian. “In Palestine,” Balfour himself said, “we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country.”
As Khalidi argued, because of the historical conditions of Zionism, the one-state vision promoted by Netanyahu and Trump “has perils neither of these two men can admit.”
The success of the Zionist project has depended largely on selling to international public opinion a glittering vision that essentially excluded the Palestinians, and whose realization depended on massive European and American support. But it is growing increasingly difficult to conceal the fact that, at its heart, this is a vision of a future for Palestinians that is separate but profoundly unequal.
This exclusionary one-state vision will fail, according to Khalidi, because “the Palestinian people will not accept it, and because it will not be acceptable to Americans or Europeans of good faith.”
Writing in TIME, Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, argued that the only true one-state solution is one that realizes “equality for all:”
We have spent unending hours and pages debating the path of a line between countless settlements and villages. But the lines we must now explore moving forward are those that must be drawn in a political agreement, or a constitution, that balances the collective aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians with a full realization of each peoples’ human rights.
Like Khalidi, Munayyer views the international community as central to compelling Israelis to accept full equality for the Palestinians:
Just as whites in the southern U.S. and Afrikaaners were reluctant to accept the reform of systems that privileged them at the expense of others, no group, including Israeli Jews, will be quick to accept such reform. They will have to be compelled to make this choice, as in the case of South Africa, by an international community that rejects the apartheid alternative.
Alaa Tartir and Tareq Baconi, members of the Al-Shabaka Palestinian Policy Network, wrote in Al Jazeera about the reaction the Palestinian political establishment should have to Trump’s comments. They called for significant reforms of the Palestinian political vision, arguing that “the current leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority (PA) must stop living in the myth of statehood.”
Instead, Palestinians must “decisively shift towards a rights-based national project that aims to achieve equality for all inhabitants in between the [Jordan] river and the [Mediterranean] sea.” This means revoking the Oslo Accords and ending PA security cooperation with Israel, which has helped sustain the occupation.
They also called for structural reforms to the PLO, urging Fatah and Hamas to “finally put national interests above party ambitions:”
Domestic unity must be premised on reviving participatory decision-making processes within the PLO. The crisis of legitimacy of the current leadership is completely debilitating. An inclusive political agenda needs to be put forward for the emergence of a future leadership that is accountable to its people and their aspirations.
These Palestinian voices make a crucial distinction between Trump and Netanyahu’s one-state vision of formalized Israeli apartheid and a true one-state solution, one based on full justice and equality. It is well past time Palestinian desires are heeded rather than ignored.