Netanyahu Vows to Maintain Israel’s West Bank Settlements ‘Forever’

Forever ever? Photo: Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images

Last week, the State Department suggested that it would not push for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, because doing so might “bias one side over the other.”

This was a perplexing statement. The two-state solution had been America’s official position on the conflict for decades precisely because it’s the only framework that could (however, superficially) accommodate the fundamental, internationally validated demands of each side: for Israel, the ability to maintain a democratic, Jewish ethno-state insulated from the “demographic threat” of Arab procreation; for the Palestinians, independent political power and an end to military occupation.

The Trump administration is not going to support a one-state solution that grants all of the region’s residents equal-citizenship rights, as such a proposal would jeopardize Israel’s identity as a Jewish state (as opposed to a binational one). So, the State Department was ostensibly saying that it would be “biased” for the U.S. to rule out a one-state “solution” in which Palestinians in the occupied territories are treated as second-class citizens, by virtue of their ethnicity, in perpetuity (an arrangement that Israel’s own leaders have likened to apartheid).

This implication was not lost on the Palestinian leadership. As the Times of Israel reported:

On Sunday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told a group of dovish Israeli lawmakers that he had met with Trump officials 20 times, but had no idea what their stance on issues was, describing the administration as “in chaos.”

Other officials have expressed dismay as well and accused the US of being biased toward Israel, even as a delegation led by Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner arrives in the region to try and find a way forward.

On Tuesday, Ahmad Majdalani, a top aide to Abbas, said the Palestinians asked Kushner for the US position on two key issues — Israeli settlements and support for Palestinian independence — during his last visit to the region in June.

“Since then we didn’t hear from them,” he said.

Such silence may be unnerving for Abbas, but it seems to have been liberating for Benjamin Netanyahu. On Monday, the Israeli prime minister vowed that Israel would never uproot any of its (illegal) settlements in the West Bank — a pledge that’s (all-but) impossible to reconcile with the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

“We are here to stay, forever,” Netanyahu said, at an event celebrating the 50th anniversary of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, according to Haaretz.

“There will be no more uprooting of settlements in the land of Israel. It has been proven that it does not help peace,” the prime minister continued. “So we will not fold. We are guarding Samaria [the biblical name for part of the West Bank] against those who want to uproot us. We will deepen our roots, build, strengthen and settle.”

It has been clear for some time now that Netanyahu’s government has no interest in two states. The status quo works well for the Likud government and its constituents — or, at least, well enough that it has little incentive to offer controversial concessions to the Palestinians. This basic fact was clear to the last American diplomat to push for peace, John Kerry.

But Netanyahu’s remarks Monday were unusually forthright in their contempt for Palestinian independence. To the extent that the Trump administration’s abandonment of the two-state framework contributed to this candor, it may actually prove productive. Now, we can stop pretending that the Likud government is interested in granting Palestinians political autonomy of any kind. To avoid genuine “bias” in their pursuit of peace, future U.S. policymakers will have to accept this fact — and resolve to make indefinite occupation less comfortable for Israel than it currently is.

Netanyahu Vows to Maintain West Bank Settlements ‘Forever’