Like other US presidents before him, Donald Trump invited the current Palestinian leader to the White House and told him that there was a “very good chance” of a peace settlement between Israel and a soon-to-be-independent state called Palestine.
The Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, did not break with tradition either. Like his predecessor, Yasser Arafat (who visited the White Hours 24 times), Abbas concluded his visit on Wednesday with an optimistic remark: “Now, Mr President, with you we have hope.”
But the “peace process” is still dead. It has been dead for 22 years now, ever since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister who in 1933 signed the Oslo Accords for a “two-state solution”.
During the election that followed to replace Rabin, the radical Hamas movement, which opposed any compromise peace, launched a massive terrorist campaign inside Israel. Its purpose was to drive Israeli voters into the arms of the right-wing Likud Party, which also opposed the peace deal. It succeeded. The winner of the 1996 election was Benjamin Netanyahu.
Only once, in a single speech in 2009, has he publicly accepted the principle of a demilitarised but independent Palestinian state in at least some of the territories conquered by Israel in 1967. But that was just to please the US; he didn’t actually mean it.
During the last Israeli election campaign in 2015, an interviewer from the Israeli news site NRG asked Netanyahu if it was true that a Palestinian nation would never be formed while he is prime minister.
“Bibi” (as he is known in Israel) replied simply: “Indeed.” Bibi is generally more cautious than that, communicating his true views on the “twostate solution” to the Israeli public by nods and winks.
He needs to reassure the Israelis who vote for him that it will never happen, but too much frankness annoys Washington, which prefers to pretend that somehow, some time, a Palestinian state is still possible. The ministers who populate Netanyahu’s cabinet are not under the same pressure to go along with the pretence, because most of what they say stays in Hebrew.
British journalist Mehdi Hasan recently collected some of their more revealing remarks, like Interior Minister Silvan Shalom’s speech to a meeting of Likud Party activists in 2012: “We are all against a Palestinian state, there is no question about it.”
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel said in 2013: “We need to state clearly that there won’t be a Palestinian state west of the Jordan river.” So this umpteenth attempt to revive the corpse of the late, lamented peace process is pure charade.
It’s something that American presidents do, mostly for domestic reasons, and Abbas goes along with it because he is desperately in need of some face-time with a leader who really is important. The brutal truth is that the two-state solution’s time is past. Israel has become so strong militarily that it is the region’s superpower, so it no longer needs to trade land for peace.
Many of the neighbouring Arab states, obsessed by their own much bigger security threats and civil wars, have been cooperating quietly with Israel. Israeli rule over four-and-a-half million non-citizen Palestinians has lasted half a century.
There is no reason why it cannot last for another half-century, although there is bound to be an eruption of Palestinian resistance from time to time.