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Where we agree—and don’t—with Trump’s ideas on peace in Israel and Palestine

In May 2016, 10,000 Palestinians took part in the annual March of Return.  Photo: Ilona Kassissieh / AFSC

Peace policies must recognize rights and equality for all people. 

On Feb. 15, President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu met for the first time, discussing solutions for peace in Israel and Palestine. At a surface level, AFSC can agree with some of the ideas they put forward, but we are deeply concerned about their positions undergirding these ideas.

On settlements

During the press conference following their meeting, Trump called on Israel to consider slowing its construction of settlements, but moved away from the traditional U.S. position of firmly opposing settlements. Netanyahu stated that "the issue of the settlements is not the core of the conflict, nor does it really drive the conflict." 

AFSC agrees with Netanyahu and the Israeli government to some degree: Settlements are not the core of the conflict nor are they the key driver of the conflict.

But we differ in that we recognize that settlements remain a critical obstacle to peace, even if they are only a symptom of Israel's occupation and ongoing colonization of Palestinian land. Settlement building must stop as work moves forward to address the real core issues, including historic and ongoing Palestinian displacement as well as the legal and institutional inequality between Palestinian and Israelis. Unfortunately, neither Netanyahu or Trump want to address these issues.

What's more, settlements are illegal under international law, which prohibits an occupying power to transfer its civilian population into a territory they militarily occupy. Settlements are built on confiscated Palestinian land, control over 43 percent of Palestinian territory, and limit Palestinian access to key natural resources. 

And settlements are linked to violations of Palestinian rights in the occupied Palestinian territory—from movements restrictions, denial of building rights, limitations on economic expansion, and the deployment of military forces in and around Palestinian communities.

On the two-state solution

Students in Gaza. Photo: AFSC/Mike Merryman-Lotze

Trump took the extraordinary step of moving away from the established U.S. position that the creation of two states--one Palestinian and one Israeli—is the only path to peace. He stated that he is open to either one or two states, based on what is acceptable to Palestinians and Israelis.

AFSC agrees. Our longstanding position is that any peace must be acceptable to both Palestinians and Israelis, and we remain open to any option that meets that criteria, including two states, one state, or some other arrangement.

At the same time, we must remember that future agreements are defined by present realities. As is noted by AFSC and 14 other faith groups in a recent policy paper,

"[r]egardless of the underlying political governance structures, equal rights and opportunities must be assured for all people in the region – not someday based on an idea of future negotiations, but as a fundamental human right today." 

Occupation is a system of oppression, and the present situation denies equality for Palestinians. Palestinians face restrictions on their movement based on their identity. Separate legal systems exist for Palestinians and Israeli settlers who both live the same areas. Political participation is determined by ethnicity and religion. Legal and institutional discrimination based on religion and ethnicity are rampant in housing, employment, and education not only in the occupied Palestinian territory but also inside Israel. Palestinians in Gaza live under a brutal military blockade.

Peace cannot be achieved through this institutionalized inequality.

During the press conference, Netanyahu also said that Israel's prerequisite for peace is Palestinian acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state, but he did not define what that means. The fact is that Israel already identifies itself as a Jewish state, regardless of Palestinian opinion. Getting Palestinians to recognize this ongoing reality cannot be a priority over ending Israel's occupation and colonization of Palestinian land, which keep Palestinians stateless.

Our first concern should not be maintaining the privilege of the powerful, but rather realizing equality for those who are oppressed.

On Palestinians "being taught tremendous hate"

At the press conference, Trump and Netanyahu stated that the real problem in the conflict is the hatred taught to Palestinian children by their parents and in their schools. These statements are dehumanizing and racist. This argument is no more acceptable than the reverse argument that the conflict is caused by hatred taught to Israeli children. 

Violence and anger are the products of occupation, oppression, and inequality. It is only ending these conditions that peace in Israel and Palestine will be realized.

About the Author

Mike Merryman-Lotze is the American Friends Service Committee’s Palestine-Israel Program Director.  He coordinates AFSC’s Israel and Palestine focused advocacy and policy programming, working closely with AFSC’s offices in Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, and throughout the US. 

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