Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the United States will no longer view Israeli settlements on the West Bank as a violation of international law. Those who oppose this policy change cite international law and working toward a two-state solution as reasons why this was a poor choice. The first objection is a straw man. The second is outdated.
The United States should continue working toward a one-state solution, with Israel in power. At the same time, the Trump administration should implement new strategies to raise the quality of life and standards of living for Palestinians in the West Bank.
The outcry over this decision has largely come from a Democrat coalition within Congress and two-state advocacy groups. Congressman Andy Levin, a Jewish Democrat representing Michigan’s 9th district, organized the signing of a letter by 106 Democratic House members to express “strong disagreement” with the State Department’s decision.
One of those signers, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, D‑Detroit, tweeted her distress over the United States’ contradiction of international law. “Israel’s settlements in the West Bank violate international law,” Tlaib said in the tweet. “No matter what this corrupt and immoral Trump regime (yeah he is a lawless king-like dictator) say, it doesn’t change that fact.”
Two-state solution advocacy groups expressed concern over the Trump administration’s decision. J Street, a left-leaning Jewish advocacy group that supports the two-state model, accused the administration of “discarding decades of bipartisan U.S. policy and flagrantly disregarding international law” while “trampling on the rights of Palestinians.”
But Democrat lawmakers must first define international law. There is neither a written set of statutes nor a legislative body that governs the global politics. Instead, international law is the conglomeration of customs, treaties, agreements, conventions, traditions, and practices that inform the way nations interact with each other. For this reason, when the State Department condemned Israel’s settlements in the West Bank in 1978, it called them “inconsistent with international law” rather than “illegal.”
International law is not dogmatic. To call something a violation of international law is more a rhetorical move than an objective standard.
The heart of this issue that, by acknowledging Israel’s right to occupy the West Bank, a territory given to the Palestinians by the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, the United States is showing it has given up on creating a Palestinian state even if its rhetoric has remained the same. Instead, Trump administration is pursuing peace in that region by focusing on the economic prosperity of the Palestinian people.
The first tremors of this policy shift happened at a conference in Bahrain in June of this year. Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and Director of the Office of American Innovation, pitched a $50 billion proposal at the conference to revitalize the Palestinian economy that did not refer to a two-state solution.
The economic path to peace is far from new. Prior to the ’80s, the mainstream narrative on achieving peace between Israelis and Palestinians was to integrate the Palestinians into Israel by lifting them up economically. President Ronald Reagan, was an outspoken advocate for this model.
We should return to this policy because pushing for a two-state solution has not worked. Since 1937, the United Nations and Israel have offered the Palestinians statehood eight times. And eight times, they have walked away from the negotiating table or did not show up at all, despite the Israelis offering them generous swathes of land.
Both sides are far too ideologically driven to split the territory in a way that satisfies both. For each side, it’s a zero-sum game. The zeal of both the Israeli and Palestinian people make the two-state solution a practical impossibility.
This begs the question of why the Israelis rather than the Palestinians should be given this territory. There is the classic and compelling argument that Israel acts as a stabilizing force in the region. For the same reason the United States supports Jordan, it should also support Israel. Certainly, we would rather have more Jordans than Irans.
The Trump administration already has taken measures to support Israeli interests while pressuring the Palestinians: They acknowledged Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2017, cut foreign aid to the Palestinians in 2018, closed the Palestinians’ office in Washington in 2018, and recognized Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights in 2019.
Most importantly, focusing on the economic development of the Palestinian people is the path to creating the best peace possible. The belief in the possibility of reconciliation between the Palestinian and Israeli people is out of touch with reality.
If the Palestinian people no longer suffer economically, however, violence and conflict will certainly decrease as history shows that a stronger middle class is less likely to cause political strife.
By trading in the outdated two-state solution for a realistic economic approach, the United States is helping put that region on the right trajectory.