Would it be the worst thing in the world for the American government to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital?
Trump said in a speech today that the U.S. will officially recognize the city as the capital of Israel and move our embassy there from Tel Aviv, a decision that has been met with near-instant outrage by Muslim leaders and heads of state. In advance of Trump's announcement, Turkish President Recep Erdogan, for example, called Jerusalem "the red line for Muslims."
Now, of course, Israel’s capital is in Jerusalem. But most of the rest of the world refuses to recognize that political geography — or will not, at least, until there is a viable Palestinian state living in peace and security alongside Israel. The world, in other words, has dangled recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as a kind of peace process carrot.
The United States has, for many years now, supported this international consensus, electing to keep its embassy in Tel Aviv with almost everyone else’s. In this context, the Trump administration’s decision to transfer our diplomatic offices to Jerusalem is a slap in the face of international public opinion. Perhaps more importantly, however, it may signal the death of the two-state solution.
There are many reasons to think that’s a bad thing. For one, the Trump and Netanyahu administrations are clearly acting out of a desire to inflict further harm on the Palestinians, who have been failed by years of sclerotic, unimaginative and generally feckless leadership.
Furthermore, by international law, East Jerusalem belongs to Palestine.
The Trump administration’s decision may signal the death of the two-state solution.
But I also think that Trump's move may have a silver lining. American diplomats insisted for many years that the two-state solution remained a viable option, even while the rest of the world knew this was merely a ruse intended to give Israel time to create more facts on the ground. This, despite the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hardly played along, making it rather clear where he stood.
By moving to crush any lingering Palestinian hopes for a national capital in East Jerusalem, America and Israel may say they are still open to a two-state solution, but in reality they are really signaling that that the two-state solution is pretty much dead. They broadcast that the occupation of Palestinian land, and the dispossession of the Palestinian people, will (and should) be accelerated.
This makes the issue more complicated for me.
Some one-staters advocate for a unitary, secular state, where all, Jewish, Muslim and Christian citizens, are equal before the law. (Think of is as a non-confessional democracy on the model of the United States). Others propose a binational confederation in which Palestinians and Israelis enjoy extreme autonomy but pool certain functions of the state — defense, for example, or foreign affairs.
All of these potential solutions seem farfetched, and perhaps unrealistic. But all of these are more moral, and more sustainable, than the unfolding tragedy that is the status quo. Moreover, none of these are really that new, either.
So when I advocate for a one-state solution, I’m merely asking for two-staters to be honest about their politics.
Of course, killing off the diplomatic process very likely isn’t going to be good for Palestinians — or Israelis. But what is the point of investing all of one’s political energies in a ruse? Because that’s all the two-state solution ever was.
Even the most generous offers extended to Palestinians never afforded them the possibility of a viable and sovereign state. Even the most generous Israeli and American offers still assumed a bisected Palestinian state, a West Bank riven by an expanded Jerusalem, Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan River Valley, implicit control of Palestinian borders and a defense force essentially limited to a robust police department.
That is not, by any definition, an independent country. It’s a slightly more autonomous colony.
Ultimately, the two-state solution sounded nice on paper, but partition hardly ever ends well—look at India and Pakistan or, well, Israel and Palestine. The British made conflicting promises to Zionists and to Palestinians, the consequences of which are with us until this moment, and likely for many years to come.
By ending the fiction of the two-state solution Trump has finally made explicit what we all knew implicitly.
And the status quo? That’s no solution, either.
It’s not shocking that Israel would be uncomfortable with a militarized Palestine. But it’s not clear why Palestinians should accept a nation unable to defend itself from the country that has occupied and colonized them. In other words, even the most generous two-state “solution” was really a one-state solution, proposing a Palestine dependent on and thereby subservient to Israel.
By ending the fiction of the two-state solution, and moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, Trump has finally made explicit what we all knew implicitly. Thus disabused of the charade, the real work can begin. Namely, realizing a solution that gives Israelis and Palestinians the equal dignity and sovereignty they deserve, which cannot be realized except through a shared state.
When one people dominates others, that domination inevitably ends in violence — look at Iraq and the Kurds, or Syria and her Sunnis, or Bahrain and the Shia majority. You can’t dispossess a people, except by force, and the exercise of that force is necessarily and inevitably morally corrosive.
That isn’t the only reason running roughshod over the Palestinians is so dangerous for Israel. At a time when the Middle East is overwhelmed by sectarian feuds, and sorted into the kind of grand alliances and rivalries that can precipitate catastrophic regional wars, the last thing Israel needs is instability and unrest inside its borders too.
That argument doesn’t give the Palestinian plight the attention it deserves, but it’s hard to know what other line of reasoning might break through.
Haroon Moghul is a commentator and author of three books. His most recent is a memoir, "How to be a Muslim: An American Story."