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The Carletonian

The “ultimate deal” is not one state

<ump’s proposed Middle East policy should pain conservatives and liberals alike. “Proposed” and “policy” are both strong words here, as his foreign policy platform still remains little more than bullet points and speech snippets on his campaign website. From recent actions and tweets (why are tweets a serious policy outlet now?), we’re learning a bit more about what he specifically has in mind for U.S.-Israel relations; and it looks grim for Israel.

Wait a second, for Israel? Didn’t he just appoint David Friedman, a settlement supporter so hardline he makes the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) seem dovish, to be the U.S. ambassador to Israel? Isn’t this just giving Prime Minister Netanyahu’s right-wing government what they’ve wanted? Well, in the short term, yes. But the long-term implications of U.S. support for Israeli annexation of the West Bank (something Friedman has publicly floated) run counter to the interests of all parties involved.

Israeli politicians, and their U.S. allies, frequently speak of the need to preserve a uniquely Jewish and democratic state in the Middle East. From a conservative perspective, Israel’s continued stability and democratic norms are indispensable to U.S. interests in the region. But, as we approach the 50th anniversary of the building of the first settlement in the occupied West Bank, it becomes increasingly clear that, if Friedman and Trump get their way, Israel will be neither a Jewish nor a democratic state.

Now-former Secretary of State John Kerry observed, “the status quo is leading towards one state and perpetual occupation.” One state would mean Israel absorbing the Palestinian, and largely non-Jewish, population of the West Bank, thus creating a “Jewish state” where 35-40% of the population is not Jewish. Some Israeli demographers, such as Sergio DellaPergola, claim that Jews could even be rendered a minority in a one-state solution, because of a relatively high birth rate among Palestinians and the possible return of refugees. Given the Israeli government’s history on the subject of Palestinian civil rights, citizenship and voting rights for Palestinians most likely won’t improve in this future state. While it might have passed as democratic one hundred years ago, no modern democracy can claim such a title and yet deny full civic engagement to such a large demographic.

If I were a conservative advisor to Trump, I would tell him that if you really want to be a friend to Israel, you need to help its government kick its addiction to settlement expansion outside of existing blocs. As settlements expand deeper and deeper into occupied territory, they become more and more of a security liability. While settlement expansion may appease some ultra-religious constituents wishing to “reclaim their birthright,” it also empowers radical Islamist calls to violence and legitimizes Arab skepticism of the West.

Instead, Trump’s “ultimate deal” should include provisions that strengthen Israeli security while providing for increased economic opportunity for Palestinians. The center-right Israel Policy Forum outlines a plan in which Israel clarifies it has no claim on sovereignty east of the security barrier and engages in mutual land swaps that would give Israel claim to the largest settlement blocs. Israel would then be able to increase security as it sees fit in officially sovereign territory and free itself from the bulk of international legal controversy.

Given the current lack of economic opportunity in the West Bank, many Palestinians work in Israel illegally. Instead of stopping this, Israel should instead embark on a path of economic normalization with its neighbors. This could include issuing thousands more work permits, allowing connection between Israeli and Palestinian banks, investing in Palestinian infrastructure, and easing restrictions on movements of goods within the West Bank. These investments would hopefully serve to create economic interdependence and reduce Palestinian resentment of Israel.

While I personally do not agree with the entirety of this plan, I do believe it would appeal to longer-term conservative interests. Preserving Israel’s Jewish and democratic character is vital to U.S. conservative interests in the Middle East. Trump should not let Netanyahu’s reckless expansion policies endanger these interests for the sake of courting a small minority of voters.  As for myself, I would hope that the U.S. could care about the rights of brown people regardless of how it plays to our security interests, but apparently that’s too much to ask nowadays.

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