Palestinians believe Trump embassy move has destroyed viability of a 2-state solution
WASHINGTON – President Trump, in formally recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on Wednesday, declared that the United States still supported a two-state solution to settle the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, provided it was “agreed to by both sides.”
For the first time in his 26 years as a peacemaker, the chief negotiator for the Palestinians did not agree.
Saeb Erekat, the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization and a steadfast advocate for a Palestinian state, said in an interview Thursday that Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel “have managed to destroy that hope.” He embraced a radical shift in the PLO’s goals – to a single state, but with Palestinians enjoying the same civil rights as Israelis, including the vote.
“They’ve left us with no option,” he said. “This is the reality. We live here. Our struggle should focus on one thing: equal rights.”
Erekat’s change of heart is unlikely to change Palestinian policy. The dream of a Palestinian state is too deeply ingrained in a generation of its leaders for the Palestinian Authority to abandon it now. Israel would be unlikely to accede to equal rights, because granting a vote to millions of Palestinians would eventually lead to the end of Israel as a Jewish state.
But the fact that Erekat is speaking openly about it attests to the turmoil caused in the Middle East by Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem. More so than the protests that erupted in the West Bank, which injured dozens of people but were less intense than expected, the comments of senior Palestinians like Erekat captured the profound sense of despair.
Administration officials strenuously reject the argument that Trump has foreclosed a two-state solution. He recommitted himself to brokering what he has called the “ultimate deal” between the two sides, they said. He studiously avoided taking a position on the eventual borders or sovereignty of Jerusalem. And he called for status quo in the administration of the Jewish and Muslim holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem.
“We want an agreement that is a great deal for the Israelis and a great deal for the Palestinians,” Trump said.
Beyond the president’s words, there were other signs he is serious about his intentions. On the same day that he signed his name with a John Hancocklike flourish to a proclamation recognizing Jerusalem as the capital, he quietly signed another document that will delay the move of the U.S. Embassy to the city for at least six months – and probably much longer.
White House officials insist that Trump’s decision was driven by practical and logistical, not political, considerations. The State Department, they said, cannot open a functioning embassy in Jerusalem on the timetable stipulated under a 1995 law that requires the president to sign a national-security waiver every six months to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv.
But putting off the move avoids a tangible symbol of a new U.S. policy and spares the White House a series of decisions – like where in the city to place the embassy – that would begin to define the geography of Trump’s deliberately general statement about Jerusalem.
“Avoiding a move of the embassy is a way of avoiding geographic definition,” said Martin S. Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel.
“Avoiding any geographic definition of their recognition of Jerusalem looks like their effort to keep the peace process alive.”
Legal experts said there was nothing in the 1995 law that would prevent the Trump administration from simply hanging a sign outside the existing U.S. consulate in Jerusalem and calling it the embassy.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States hastily set up embassies in temporary quarters in the capitals of newly independent republics.
“I would be surprised if the State Department interpreted the Jerusalem Embassy Act as requiring it to break ground on a new embassy facility or take other such steps,” said Scott R. Anderson, a David M. Rubenstein fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution.
“The plain language of the statute only requires that the secretary of state determine and report to Congress that the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem has officially opened,” he said.
Other former Middle East diplomats said the decision to delay the embassy move was far less important than the symbolic weight of Trump’s statement on Jerusalem.
“This was trying to be too clever by half,” said Daniel C. Kurtzer, a Princeton professor and former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt. “If they think that anybody is going to be fooled into thinking this makes their diplomacy credible, they’re kidding themselves.”
Palestinians demonstrate Thursday at the Damascus Gate outside the Old City of Jerusalem. Widespread predictions of unrest were realized in the region a day after President Trump took the high-risk move of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.