Return of the Two-State Solution

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5 Feb 2021
Return of the Two-State Solution

With the new Biden administration now in place in Washington, many are wondering how this might impact the Middle East, especially with regards to the Iranian nuclear threat, the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, and the warming relations between Israel and the Sunni Arab world.

Familiar Faces
During the recent US presidential campaign, candidate Joe Biden distanced himself from incumbent President Donald Trump on nearly every issue related to the Mideast region – except for the Abrahams Accords. There were just too many positives coming out of the Trump team’s successful efforts to help Israel reach peace deals with four Arab countries (United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco).

But Biden offered a different take on nearly every other policy concern, and his incoming Administration is now expected to shift course in two main areas – brokering an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement and how to defuse the Iranian nuclear threat. In both cases, Biden will likely revert to the approaches taken by the previous Obama presidency, especially given that he served as vice president then and so many other senior Obama appointees are now being tapped for key positions in Biden’s foreign policy team.

For instance, former secretary of state John Kerry is now the new ‘climate czar’, overseeing Biden’s top priority abroad – the crusade against global warming. Samantha Power, who served as Obama’s ambassador to the UN, will now be director of the US AID program. Normally, both positions would be under the supervision of incoming Secretary of State Antony Blinken, but Kerry and Power each used their clout to elevate these postings to cabinet-level status.

Meantime, Wendy Sherman, the main US negotiator of the Iranian nuclear pact in 2015, is now number two at the State Department. And Rob Malley, an Obama-era advisor known for having close contacts in Tehran, will now be Biden’s special envoy to Iran.

Regarding Iran, Bidens’ aides have said they would prefer to renegotiate the 2015 JCPOA agreement to extend its timeframe and include curbs on Iran’s ballistic missile threat, among other regional concerns. But before re-engaging with Tehran, they have pledged to first consult with allies in the Middle East and Europe, as well as key leaders in Congress. Yet they also have warned that a decision is urgently needed on whether to re-enter the Iranian nuclear deal abandoned by Trump – since Tehran could be only “weeks away” from reaching breakout capabilities to develop a nuclear weapon. Israeli officials disagree, however, assessing the ayatollahs would still need at least six months to reach the breakout stage.

This is an odd reversal of the days when Jerusalem was the one warning Iran was much closer to the ‘bomb’ than the Obama White House estimates. In any event, it is doubtful Biden’s team will put much effort into consulting with Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu on this existential issue for his nation, and the upcoming Israeli elections could be used as a convenient excuse for essentially evading him on the Iran question.

And keep in mind that the clerical regime in Tehran is certain to demand a high price for even considering possible changes to the JCPOA negotiated under Obama.

Familiar Flaws
For many Israelis, the presence of so many Obama-era officials in Biden’s leadership team is also a bad sign on the settlements issue. After all, it is widely believed that John Kerry and Samantha Power were behind the passage of UN Security Council resolution 2334, the vindictive, blatantly anti-Israel decree adopted in December 2016, just weeks before Barack Obama left office.

That resolution declared that “Israeli settlements, including East Jerusalem, have no legal validity and constitute a flagrant violation under international law.” It added that they also are “a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution”, which can only be “salvaged” by an Israeli settlement freeze.

So for those who stand firmly with Israel’s claims to Judea/Samaria and all of Jerusalem, the days of being able to relax on the settlements issue during the Trump presidency are over. Now I doubt that Biden will immediately start pressing Israel for serious concessions to the Palestinians, but some of their allies in Europe and elsewhere are already doing so.

For instance, when Biden was declared the president-elect in early November, European Union officials instantly ratcheted up their denunciations of the Givat Hamatos building project in southern Jerusalem. Germany and France also have started pushing to relaunch talks over the two-state solution, while UN Secretary General António Guterres recently called for the same, citing in his official statement the exact wording from UNSC resolution 2334 about Israel’s “flagrant violations under international law”.

This had all been put on the back burner under Trump, who rarely mentioned the “two-state” option and saw no reason to condemn Israeli settlement activities – with his State Department even maintaining that they were legitimate under international law. But this is all now back in play, so get used to hearing once more the incessant drum beat against the Jewish settlements and Israel’s “occupation” of Palestinian lands.

This shift is basically a return to the foreign policy establishment’s biased consensus – held in Washington and Brussels too – that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lies at the root of all the troubles in the Middle East and they can only be solved after Israel makes the moves necessary to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians. President Trump proved this ‘linkage’ theory was totally flawed, of course, by brokering peace accords between Israel and four Arab states. But that is not going to stop the Western elites from reviving the same old logic in order to put the onus back on Israel again to make one-sided concessions for peace.

 

 

David Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist, and ordained minister who serves as Vice President and senior spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org/