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16 Feb, 2017 01:50

Palestinians support Trump’s call for Israeli settlements ‘pullback’, wary of ‘one state’ idea

The Palestinian president fully supports Donald Trump’s call on Israel to “pull back” on settlement expansion, but is yet to comment on a trending idea that a peace deal might not necessarily include an independent Palestinian state.

The Palestinian presidency “demands that [Israelis] agree to [Trump’s call] and that of the international community, to halt all settlement activities including in occupied East Jerusalem,” a written statement issued by Mahmoud Abbas’ office said.

Trump on Wednesday asked the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to temporarily hold off on building new Jewish settlements on land claimed by Palestinians for their future state.

“I’d like to see you pull back on settlements for a little bit,” Trump said, instead promising to strike a deal that would bring an end to the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “I’m looking at two-state and one-state… I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one.”

“The United States will encourage a peace and really a great peace deal” between Israel and the Palestinians, but they have to negotiate it themselves, Trump said at a joint briefing with Netanyahu in Washington, DC.

Trump’s statement that the United States would no longer insist on an independent Palestinian state as part of a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians is a shift from the long-standing US policy which envisages a two-state solution. Before Netanyahu's meeting with Trump, a White House official also noted that the US is serious about the Middle East peace process but is not insistent on a two-state solution.

While an anathema to some Palestinians, the Palestine Liberation Organization(PLO) Secretary-General, said that one state solution could be possible if that state extends equal democratic rights for all.

“Contrary to Netanyahu’s plan of one state and two systems, apartheid, the only alternative to two sovereign and democratic states on the 1967 border is one single secular and democratic state with equal rights for everyone, Christians, Muslims, and Jews, on all of historic Palestine,” Saeb Erekat said Wednesday during a meeting with the speaker of the UK House of Commons, John Bercow, in Ramallah.

“As we have constantly stated, the two-state solution is a Palestinian adoption of an international formula,” Erekat, the PLO's former lead peace negotiator, continued. “In fact, it represents a painful and historic Palestinian compromise of recognizing Israel over 78% of historic Palestine. Today, almost six million Palestinians live under Israeli control in all of historic Palestine, while almost six million Palestinians live in exile.”

Erekat’s comments contradict Palestine’s official position which still imagines the establishment of an independent state within 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, but rampant Israeli settlement expansion has virtually rendered this dream unviable.

Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem following the 1967 Six Day War has been one of the major stumbling blocks in the peace negotiations. The last peace effort to reconcile the conflicting sides brokered by then Secretary of State John Kerry collapsed in April 2014.

The issue of settlements has been widely publicized in recent months after the Obama's administration abstained from voting on what Tel Aviv called an “anti-Israel” UN Security Council settlement resolution.

Trump and his team voiced concern over the adoption of the UNSC document and sent out messages which indicated that the new administration would not oppose Israeli settlement expansion once in office.

While the official White House position has changed, Israel, prior to Netanyahu’s visit to the US, went on to approve some 6,000 new settlement homes since Trump’s inauguration. The Israeli parliament has also approved the legalization of nearly 4,000 settler homes in Area C of the West Bank as it passed a controversial retroactive bill.

It is yet to be seen if Ramallah changes its official position on the two-state solution. So far, some senior Palestinian figures and the UN Secretary General have reacted angrily to Donald Trump’s assertions that a sovereign Palestinian state is no longer an essential part of a peace settlement in the Middle East.

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior PLO politician, said Trump was pandering to Zionist nationalists with his about-turn of US support for the two-state solution, originally and publicly proclaimed by Bill Clinton.

“If the Trump administration rejects this policy it would be destroying the chances for peace and undermining American interests, standing and credibility abroad,” she said in a statement. “Accommodating the most extreme and irresponsible elements in Israel and in the White House is no way to make responsible foreign policy.”

The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also reaffirmed his commitment to giving Palestinians statehood as a result of any peace talks.

“There is no alternative solution for the situation between the Palestinians and Israelis, other than the solution of establishing two states, and we should do all that can be done to maintain this,” he said during a visit to Cairo.

Meanwhile, the deputy speaker of the Knesset, Arab-Israeli lawmaker Ahmad Tibi, told CNN that if a one-state solution allows Palestinians the vote, he will run for prime minister and win. He cautioned, however, that moving away from a two-state solution “could lead to violence.”

The developments in Washington drew condemnation in Israel.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog, called it “sad and shameful” to see the Israeli Prime Minister “twisting and turning just to avoid the idea of separating from the Palestinians in the form of two states.”

“Every Israeli should be concerned tonight about the very concept of one state between the sea to the Jordan, which means no Jewish state. This is a very dangerous disaster and we will fight it in every way possible,” Herzog said, the Jewish Standard reported.

Parliamentarian Nachman Shai, chairman of the US - Israel Friendship Caucus, said“The two-state solution is first-and-foremost in the interest of the State of Israel and the Jewish people. Once again, Netanyahu has proved that Israel has no foreign policy, only domestic policy.”