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It is an era in which conventions are being smashed. Even so, Benjamin Netanyahu’s victory in the Israeli elections earlier this week served as a reminder that rules underpinning the international consensus are being rewritten before our eyes.
Netanyahu is embarking on a record fifth term as prime minister. Most of the lawmakers in the coalition government he will head have opposed the removal of Jewish settlements on land that Palestinians envision for a future state.
This appears to doom a two-state solution — which has been accepted in diplomatic circles since the mid-1990s as the only game in town in terms of peace and justice for Palestinians and Israelis.
A few days before the elections, Netanyahu declared that he would annex settlements in the West Bank — territory Israel captured during the Six-Day War of 1967 with its Arab neighbors. Many countries consider these communities to be illegal under the Geneva Conventions, which bans settling on territory occupied in war.
This is not a huge surprise: Netanyahu conditionally accepted the concept of creating of a Palestinian state in 2009, but six years later he vowed that a state would not happen under his watch.
Among Palestinians, support has also been ebbing amid frustration with failed negotiations.
But Netanyahu's vow to annex settlements is a big deal.
“Although it may just be campaign sloganeering, we all need to be clear that Israeli sovereignty over all the Israeli settlements would make it impossible to create a Palestinian state,” wrote Hady Amr, a former deputy head for the Middle East at the U.S. Agency for International Development and an expert with the Brookings Institution think tank.
“The difficulty of separation — and the likelihood of annexation — is growing stronger by day,” Amr added.
In a statement Friday, a group of key U.S. lawmakers — Reps. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., Ted Deutch, D-Fla., and Brad Schneider, D-Ill., — said they were "greatly concerned by the possibility of Israel taking unilateral steps to annex the West Bank."
Such an Israeli move would likely spell the end to a troubled process that started with the Oslo Accord of Sept. 13, 1993. The interim agreement was meant to lay the groundwork for peace by establishing a separate Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with a capital in eastern Jerusalem.
But with negotiations at a standstill and after years of bloodshed, both sides are bitter and mistrustful — and settlements have been one of the most heated issues in efforts to restart peace talks that have been halted since 2014.
Jewish settlers in the West Bank have grown from just more than 100,000 in the 1990s to more than 400,000 now. Jews in the 60 percent controlled by Israel are governed by civilian law.
Palestinians in these areas are subject to checkpoints, restrictions of movement, and an almost complete ban on construction and development, according to B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization that opposes the occupation.
The group says that "for the past 50 years, Palestinian West Bank residents have been living under rigid military rule that primarily serves the interests of the state of Israel and Israeli settlers."
The Palestinian Authority, based in Ramallah, is increasingly seen as corrupt and heavy-handed with the population under its watch.
Dire conditions in the Gaza Strip complicate matters further. The strip is ruled by Hamas, a militant group that has fought in a series of conflicts with Israel since Jewish settlements there were dismantled in 2005, and the blockaded population inches closer to total humanitarian collapse every day.
Violence — particularly the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising, that broke out in 2000 — alienated many of the Palestinians' allies in Israel and undermined talks, as well.
In a series of tweets Thursday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., underlined the fears of many allies of Israel and longtime supporters of a two-state solution.
“It’s not sustainable for Israel to militarily occupy the West Bank,” she wrote. “Nor is it just to continue denying Palestinians their inherent right of self-determination. I urge Israeli leaders to take no action — particularly annexing the West Bank — that would kill a two-state solution.”
“The only way for Israel to retain its Jewish and democratic character is to support the creation of an independent Palestine by its side,” she wrote.
Tweets like these don't get posted in a vacuum. Recent statements by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have also raised the prospect that Trump is planning to formally change longstanding U.S. policy on the subject.
Under questioning by Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., on Tuesday, Pompeo repeatedly declined to answer whether the\a two-state solution was still U.S. policy.
“We are in the process of laying down our vision of how to resolve a problem,” Pompeo said in apparent reference to Trump’s as-yet-to-be-unveiled “deal of the century” aimed at resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The plan spearheaded by Trump's son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner is expected to be announced after Netanyahu forms a new government.
While pledging that the administration is intent on "making life better" for people in Gaza and the West Bank, Pompeo would not say whether the White House supported “full and equal political and legal rights” for Palestinians under a one-state solution.
“Ultimately, the Israelis and the Palestinians will decide on how to resolve this,” he said.
The White House has already made a series of decisions that have endeared him to Netanyahu, including the decision to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem, and the recognition of Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967.
After this week's election, longtime Palestinian politician and leader Hanan Ashrawi said Trump had "emboldened" Netanyahu's "extremist and militaristic agenda."
"This cynical alliance against Palestinian rights and the standing of the rules-based international order remains unchallenged by the rest of the international community, thereby reinforcing the rightist and populist agendas," she said.