U.S. ambassador to UN contradicts Trump’s position on two-state solution

The Guardian reports: The US ambassador to the United Nations has insisted that Washington “absolutely” supported a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestine conflict, 24 hours after Donald Trump dropped US commitment to the policy.

The conflicting messages coming out of the new US administration reflected policy chaos in a week when the national security adviser was forced to resign over his contacts with Russia, and factions inside the White House continue to vie for dominance.

In Bonn, the French foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, emerged from his first meeting with the new US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, to describe the Trump administration’s Middle East policy as “confused and worrying”.

Ayrault pointed to Trump’s remarks in a joint appearance with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in which he explicitly abandoned the two decades-long US commitment to the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel as part of a final peace deal.

“I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like,” Trump said. “I can live with either one.”

After his meeting with Tillerson at the sidelines of a G20 meeting, Ayrault said: “I wanted to remind him after the meeting between Donald Trump and Netanyahu that in France’s view, there are no other options other than the perspective of a two-state solution and that the other option which Tillerson brought up was not realistic, fair or balanced.”

He did not give details about the option that Tillerson raised and the secretary of state did not take press questions, but he appears to have echoed Trump’s remarks suggesting other outcomes would be acceptable to the US. [Continue reading…]

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Trump ready to abandon U.S. support for the creation of a Palestinian state

Al Jazeera reports: US President Donald Trump will host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on Wednesday, their first meeting since the inauguration and one that could shape policy in the region for years ahead.

Trump and Netanyahu are likely to discuss peace efforts between Israel and Palestine, as well as expanding settlements, the Iran nuclear deal and the war in Syria.

Trump’s campaign pledge to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move that would infuriate Palestinians and the Muslim world, will also be a discussion point.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Trump was working to achieve a comprehensive agreement ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The way forward toward that goal will also be discussed between the president and the prime minister,” he said.

Trump, who is relentlessly pro-Israel and has repeatedly spoken disparagingly about Palestinians has challenged the legitimacy of Palestinian demands for a state.

On Tuesday, a White House official said that Trump supported the goal of peace between the Israel and the Palestinians, even if it does not involve the two-state solution. [Continue reading…]

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Trump warns Israel: stop announcing new settlements

The Jerusalem Post reports: The White House warned Israel on Thursday – in a surprising statement – to cease settlement announcements that are “unilateral” and “undermining” of President Donald Trump’s effort to forge Middle East peace, a senior administration official told The Jerusalem Post.

For the first time, the administration confirmed that Trump is committed to a comprehensive two-state solution to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict negotiated between the parties.

The official told the Post that the White House was not consulted on Israel’s unprecedented announcement of 5,500 new settlement housing units over the course of his first two weeks in office. [Continue reading…]

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Netanyahu thinks a ‘state-minus’ is enough for the Palestinians

The Washington Post reports: A few hours before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by telephone with President Trump on Sunday, the Israeli leader huddled behind closed doors with his security cabinet.

Ministers on his hard-right pressed Netanyahu to publicly proclaim the “two-state solution” dead.

The Israeli leader refused but told his raucous cabinet not to worry. Netanyahu said he did not support a full Palestinian state, but “a state-minus,” according to Israeli reports on the meeting.

In the days since, Israelis, Palestinians and American diplomats have been struggling to define what Netanyahu might have meant by “a state-minus.”

State-minus is clearly shorthand for how Netanyahu sees his bottom-line position to the decades-long conflict here, including the thorniest of thorny issues — who controls Jerusalem, with its shrines holy to three world religions.

But shorthand for what? [Continue reading…]

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At Paris meeting, major powers to warn Trump over Middle East peace

Reuters reports: Major powers will send a message to U.S. President-elect Donald Trump on Sunday that a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians is the only way forward, and warn that his plan to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem could derail peace efforts.

Some 70 countries, including key European and Arab states as well as the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, are due in Paris for a meeting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected as “futile” and “rigged”. Neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians will be represented.

But, just five days before Trump is sworn in, the conference provides a platform for countries to send a strong signal to the future American leader. [Continue reading…]

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PLO threatens to revoke recognition of Israel if U.S. embassy moves to Jerusalem

The Guardian reports: Senior Palestinian officials have warned that the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s recognition of Israel – one of the key pillars of the moribund Oslo peace agreements – is in danger of being revoked if Donald Trump moves the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The Palestinian leadership is also calling for protests in mosques and churches on Friday and Sunday to object to the move, calling for opposition to the plan “from Pakistan to Tehran, from Lebanon to Oman”.

Moving the US embassy to Jerusalem is highly contentious as it would recognise Israel’s exclusive claim to the city, most of which was annexed illegally after the 1967 war. The Palestinians also see it as their future capital. [Continue reading…]

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Republican senators introduce bill to move U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem

The Guardian reports: Three Republican senators have introduced legislation to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s official capital and move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv, a plan backed by Donald Trump but likely to ignite fierce protests.

After being sworn into the 115th Congress in Washington, Ted Cruz of Texas, Dean Heller of Nevada and Marco Rubio of Florida unveiled the Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act.

Similar moves by Republican majorities over the past two decades have come to nought, but this time they have a sympathetic president-elect in Trump. He has repeatedly pledged to relocate the embassy to Jerusalem and nominated a US ambassador who shares that view.

Critics warn that the move could unleash a wave of violence and further rattle the Israel-Palestine peace process and the future of a two-state solution. [Continue reading…]

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Diana Buttu & Gideon Levy on Israeli settlements, Kerry, military aid & end of two-state solution

 

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Kerry rebukes Israel, calling settlements a threat to peace

The New York Times reports: Secretary of State John Kerry warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Wednesday that the Israeli government was undermining any hope of a two-state solution to its decades-long conflict with the Palestinians, and said that the American vote in the United Nations last week was driven by an effort to save Israel from “the most extreme elements” in its own government.

With only 23 days left as secretary of state, Mr. Kerry, the former presidential candidate who made the search for peace in the Middle East one of the driving missions of his four years as secretary, spoke with clear frustration about Mr. Netanyahu’s continued support of settlements “strategically placed in locations that make two states impossible.” But he spoke knowing that the incoming administration of President-elect Donald J. Trump may well abandon the key principles that the United States has used for decades of Middle East negotiations.

“The status quo is leading toward one state, or perpetual occupation,” Mr. Kerry said, his voice animated. He argued that Israel, with a growing Arab population, could not survive as both a Jewish state and a democratic state unless it embraced the two-state approach that a succession of American presidents have advocated. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: Israeli leaders postponed plans on Wednesday to move ahead with new housing in East Jerusalem, just hours before Secretary of State John Kerry delivered a much-anticipated speech outlining an American vision for peace with the Palestinians.

The Jerusalem city planning committee, which was reported to be acting at the behest of the national government, canceled at the last moment a scheduled vote on permits for 618 new housing units in the predominantly Palestinian eastern section of the city. Members of the committee said the delay came at the request of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. [Continue reading…]

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John Kerry, in a final, pointed plea, will outline a vision of Mideast peace

The New York Times reports: In a last-chance effort to shape the outlines of a Middle East peace deal, Secretary of State John Kerry is to outline in a speech on Wednesday the Obama administration’s vision of a final Israeli-Palestinian accord based on bitter lessons learned from an effort that collapsed in 2014.

A senior State Department official said that Mr. Kerry, who will be out of office in less than a month and no longer in a position to negotiate any deal, will use his remarks to confront Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who has charged that the United States “orchestrated” a United Nations Security Council resolution last week condemning Israel’s continued building of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The United States abstained from the resolution, infuriating Mr. Netanyahu.

The speech, the latest salvo in a final conflict between Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Obama as Donald J. Trump prepares to assume the presidency, will make the case that “the vote was not unprecedented” and that Mr. Obama’s decision “did not blindside Israel.” Mr. Kerry, the official said, would cite other cases in which Washington officials had allowed similar votes under previous presidents.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a coming speech, said Mr. Kerry would also argue that, with the notable exception of Israel, there was a “complete international consensus” against further settlements in areas that might ultimately be the subject of negotiations.

At this late date, weeks ahead of the inauguration of Mr. Trump, who openly lobbied on Israel’s side against the United Nations resolution, it is unclear what Mr. Kerry hopes to achieve from the speech, other than to leave a set of principles that he believes will one day emerge as the basis for talks, if and when they resume.

Mr. Kerry, the official said, has long wanted to give a speech outlining an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal but was held back by White House officials, who saw it as unnecessary pressure on Israel that would anger Mr. Netanyahu. But that objection was lifted last week as Mr. Obama and Mr. Kerry agreed the time had come to abstain on the United Nations resolution. That decision led to one of the biggest breaches yet in the rocky American-Israeli relationship during the Obama years. [Continue reading…]

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The genius of the UN’s resolution on Israeli settlements

Bob Carr, Australia’s former Minister for Foreign Affairs, writes: In 1967 Israel won control of the West Bank as a result of its success in the Six Day War. Its then prime minister Levi Eshkol​ wanted to consolidate control by planting settlements on the occupied territory. He asked Theodor Meron​, his chief legal adviser, whether this would be legal.

No, said Meron. The Geneva Convention says no nation may settle its own population on land it wins in war.

Meron is alive today, an eminent international jurist. He says he was right then and is right now.

All those settlements, all illegal.

I recall a conversation about 12 years ago with an Australian business leader, just back from Israel. He held out some hope for a negotiated peace.

“But what about the settlements?” I asked. At the time I was premier and patron of Labor Friends of Israel.

“Bob, don’t worry. If the Israeli people get a peace deal they will withdraw the settlements.”

Next time I looked settlement population numbers had soared another 150,000, something which left me with the distinct impression of having been conned – no, having been lied to – by the Israel lobby. Sure we subscribe to a two-state solution, they insist, but while you’re looking the other way we’re spreading settlements as fast as possible to render it impossible. [Continue reading…]

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Israel asked Trump to help block UN resolution, then Trump spoke to Egypt’s Sisi whose govt drafted the resolution

The Wall Street Journal reports: Israeli government officials requested that U.S. President-elect Donald Trump intervene in deliberations at the United Nations focused on passing a new resolution on the Arab-Israel conflict, thrusting him into the center of one of the world’s most intractable conflicts even before taking office, according to Israeli officials briefed on the discussions.

Top Israeli officials had come to believe that the Obama administration wasn’t going to block a U.N. resolution that seeks to define Israeli construction in disputed territories as “illegal” when the measure came up for a scheduled vote by the Security Council on Thursday, according to the officials.

Instead, they turned to the incoming president, who has staked out positions more favorable to conservative Israelis and at odds with Palestinians.

Mr. Trump responded Thursday morning by issuing a Twitter message calling for U.S. opposition to the U.N. resolution. He also held a phone conversation with Egypt’s President Abel Fatah al-Sisi, whose government had drafted the U.N. resolution. Cairo proceeded on Thursday to call for a delay on the vote.

A spokesman for Mr. Trump’s transition team said Mr. Sisi initiated the call. [Continue reading…]

Al Jazeera reports: Egypt agreed to postpone a vote on a UN Security Council resolution against Israeli settlements after US president-elect Donald Trump called President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the Egyptian president’s office said. [Continue reading…]

Reuters reports: U.S. officials have voiced growing fears that a “two-state” solution is imperiled by Israeli settlement building and have been more willing to voice open criticism, including, the two Western officials said, via Thursday’s planned vote.

A U.S. abstention would have been seen as a parting shot by Obama, who has made the settlements a major target of his – ultimately futile – peace efforts.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt, which in 1979 became the first Arab nation to make peace with Israel, called Trump on Thursday, a Trump transition official said, saying they spoke broadly about laying the ground for Middle East peace.

Sisi’s office said the two leaders spoke.

“The presidents agreed on the importance of affording the new U.S. administration the full chance to deal with all dimensions of the Palestinian case with a view of achieving a full and final settlement,” presidency spokesman Alaa Yousef said.

The resolution would demand Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem” and said the establishment of settlements by Israel has “no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law.”

Egypt, currently a Security Council member, worked with the Palestinians to draft the text. [Continue reading…]

Haaretz reports: Earlier on Thursday, the French ambassador to Israel said that the draft UN Security Council resolution against the settlements submitted by Egypt is balanced and matches France’s position, and that she expects her country to support it.

Hélène Le Gal also said that it was Israel’s settlement policy, in particular the advancement of the outpost legalization bill, that pushed Egypt and the international community to promote an anti-settlement resolution in the Security Council. The statements by some Israeli ministers that Israel should launch a wave of settlement construction and take the two-state solution off the table also gave a push to the Security Council move, she added.
read more: http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.760719 [Continue reading…] [All emphasis mine.]

Trump’s transition team says Sisi initiated the call to Trump, while Sisi’s office says Trump called the Egyptian president.

Note that the Reuters report hedges on the question of who called who by leaving that question unanswered by Sisi’s office.

Given that all the reporting agrees that it was Israel that initiated this effort by calling Trump, it seems unlikely that Trump then sat around waiting for a call from Sisi.

Therefore, it seems highly probable that when a Trump transition team member said that Sisi initiated the call to Trump, this was a lie.

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Israel and Palestine won’t get a two-state solution under Donald Trump. But they may get something better

Haroon Moghul writes: Donald Trump’s nominee for US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, holds some surprisingly noxious views, even toward his fellow Jews. Never mind halting Israeli settlement construction, Friedman hails Jerusalem as the “eternal, undivided capital of Israel.”

In other words, he doesn’t believe in a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But while Friedman’s hawkish tendencies are sure to frustrate liberals in Washington and the rest of the West, the reality is that the two-state-solution ship sailed a long time ago.

Establishment policymakers in the West still believe that the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel is not only possible, but desirable. This stance conveniently ignores the fact that there’s little plausible chance a Palestinian state would survive. While I certainly wouldn’t want Friedman in charge of peace talks, he may inadvertently have pushed the reconciliation process in the right direction—the question is not whether we should implement a one-state solution, but rather what a potential one-state solution might look like. [Continue reading…]

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Donald Trump’s pick for ambassador to Israel opens a world of unknowns

Karl Vick writes: Don’t even try thinking of Donald Trump’s choice for ambassador to Israel as a diplomat. David M. Friedman is far from that. But he serves very well as a reply in kind, an answer in human form.

It’s like this: For the last three years Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the man who leads Israel, has sent signal after signal that he’s done with peace talks, or ever pulling Israeli troops out of the West Bank. Sometimes these signals were verbal — in the 2015 election campaign, Netanyahu declared flat out that there would be no Palestinian state. More recently the signals arrived in the form of diplomats — men who, like Friedman, had no prior experience in the subtle arts of statecraft, but whose biographies and attitudes said a great deal. In August, Dani Dayan became Israel’s Consul General in New York. To get his stuff, the moving van had to leave Israel and drive across the Green Line into Palestinian territory, where Dayan lived. He is a settler, a Jewish Israeli who moved to the West Bank in order to stake a claim to rocky hills that are also home to some two million Palestinians. In fact, for six years, Dayan headed the settlers’ primary organization, the Yesha Council. Earlier in the year, Brazil rejected his appointment as Israel’s ambassador to Brasilia, citing his settler background.

In New York, Dayan joined a man with a similar name — Danny Danon, the new Israeli ambassador to the United Nations. Danon was Netanyahu’s remarkable choice for the international body where the topic of Israel’s 50-year occupation of Palestinian territory is a chronic one. The new ambassador had written wrote a book suggesting that Israel simply annex the West Bank, perhaps leaving the Palestinians some urban areas. His rhetoric is famously scalding; after Israeli Defense Forces commandos killed nine Turks on a relief boat headed to the Gaza Strip, Danon wrote to Turkey’s prime minister saying “We are sorry that due to the IDF’s over-cautious behavior, only nine terrorists were killed…” Danon’s appointment to Israel’s premiere diplomatic post — like Dayan’s as envoy to the largest concentration of American Jews — was as far as you can get from business as usual in Israeli diplomacy. For more than a generation, it at least nodded to the idea of a Palestinian state. That’s no longer the case. Not even from the next U.S. ambassador — a bankruptcy lawyer who has represented Trump’s casinos.

“There has never been a two-state solution,” Friedman wrote in August, “only a two-state narrative.” And if it was that was a narrative in which moderate Palestinians invested pretty much everything, a story in which almost the entire world continues to believe, the crystalline signal from both Trump Tower and Jerusalem is that it’s all over now. [Continue reading…]

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Trump picks hardline pro-settler bankruptcy lawyer to become U.S. ambassador to Israel

The Guardian reports: Donald Trump has named as his ambassador to Israel a pro-settler lawyer who has described some US Jews as worse than concentration camp prisoner-guards.

David Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer who represented the president-elect over his failing hotels in Atlantic City, served Trump’s advisory team on the Middle East. He has set out a number of hardline positions on Israeli-Palestinian relations, including fervent opposition to the two-state solution and strong support for an undivided Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

He has called President Barack Obama an antisemite and suggested that US Jews who oppose the Israeli occupation of the West Bank are worse than kapos, Nazi-era prisoners who served as concentration camp guards.

Liberal Jewish groups in the US denounced the appointment as “reckless” and described Friedman – a man with no experience of foreign service – as the “least experienced pick” ever for a US ambassador to Israel.

Yossi Dagan, a prominent Israeli settler leader and friend of Friedman, welcomed the news, describing him as “a true friend and partner of the state of Israel and the settlements”. Morton Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America, said Friedman had “the potential to be the greatest US ambassador to Israel ever”. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s defense secretary pick opposes scrapping Iran nuclear deal

Shortly before Donald Trump’s choice for defense secretary was announced, Jim Lobe wrote: Marine Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis is the odds-on favorite for Donald Trump’s choice for secretary of defense. It’s worth exploring his views on Iran particularly in light of the ultra-hawkish positions of both National Security Adviser-designate Gen. Michael Flynn and CIA director-designate Mike Pompeo, both of whom have made no secret of their desire to destroy the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Mattis’s most comprehensive public statement on these subjects came at an hour-long presentation he gave at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) last April 22. It was entitled “The Middle East at an Inflection Point,” but it was really all about Iran. With the exception of the Military Times, the media entirely ignored his talk.

Recall that Mattis was essentially let go as chief of the U.S. Central Command, in which capacity he served from August 2010 to March 2013, largely because the Obama administration felt that he was too hawkish toward Iran. That hawkishness certainly comes through in his CSIS presentation. He sees Iran as the “single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East,” “the single most belligerent actor in the Middle East,” and as “not a nation state. Rather, he argues, it’s a revolutionary cause devoted to mayhem” that has not modified its hostility toward the U.S., Israel, and its Arab neighbors since the revolution. (It would be very hard to imagine Mattis supporting any effort to integrate Iran into a new regional security structure, although he didn’t explicitly address that issue in his talk.)

Nonetheless, unlike Flynn and Pompeo, Mattis makes clear that Washington should abide by the JCPOA, which he sees as an “imperfect arms control agreement,” because any withdrawal, especially in the absence of support from its allies, would put Washington and the region “on a road to perdition.” [Continue reading…]

The Forward reports: Late last month, when it first emerged that Trump was considering Mattis for the job, the Zionist Organization of America said it would oppose the pick, citing a 2013 appearance at the Aspen Security Forum shortly after he retired as chief of the U.S. Central Command.

“I paid a military-security price every day as the commander of CentCom because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel,” Mattis said then of his job, which involves interactions with America’s Arab allies.

He also warned that the United States urgently needed to press the Israelis and the Palestinians to advance to a two-state solution.

“Either it ceases to be a Jewish state or you say the Arabs don’t get to vote — apartheid. That didn’t work too well the last time I saw that practiced in a country,” Mattis said. [Continue reading…]

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Jimmy Carter: America must recognize Palestine

Jimmy Carter writes: We do not yet know the policy of the next administration toward Israel and Palestine, but we do know the policy of this administration. It has been President Obama’s aim to support a negotiated end to the conflict based on two states, living side by side in peace.

That prospect is now in grave doubt. I am convinced that the United States can still shape the future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before a change in presidents, but time is very short. The simple but vital step this administration must take before its term expires on Jan. 20 is to grant American diplomatic recognition to the state of Palestine, as 137 countries have already done, and help it achieve full United Nations membership.

Back in 1978, during my administration, Israel’s prime minister, Menachem Begin, and Egypt’s president, Anwar Sadat, signed the Camp David Accords. That agreement was based on the United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, which was passed in the aftermath of the 1967 war. The key words of that resolution were “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East in which every state in the area can live in security,” and the “withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.”

The agreement was ratified overwhelmingly by the Parliaments of Egypt and Israel. And those two foundational concepts have been the basis for the policy of the United States government and the international community ever since.

This was why, in 2009, at the beginning of his first administration, Mr. Obama reaffirmed the crucial elements of the Camp David agreement and Resolution 242 by calling for a complete freeze on the building of settlements, constructed illegally by Israel on Palestinian territory. Later, in 2011, the president made clear that “the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines,” and added, “negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine.”

Today, however, 38 years after Camp David, the commitment to peace is in danger of abrogation. Israel is building more and more settlements, displacing Palestinians and entrenching its occupation of Palestinian lands. Over 4.5 million Palestinians live in these occupied territories, but are not citizens of Israel. Most live largely under Israeli military rule, and do not vote in Israel’s national elections.

Meanwhile, about 600,000 Israeli settlers in Palestine enjoy the benefits of Israeli citizenship and laws. This process is hastening a one-state reality that could destroy Israeli democracy and will result in intensifying international condemnation of Israel.

The Carter Center has continued to support a two-state solution by hosting discussions this month with Israeli and Palestinian representatives, searching for an avenue toward peace. Based on the positive feedback from those talks, I am certain that United States recognition of a Palestinian state would make it easier for other countries that have not recognized Palestine to do so, and would clear the way for a Security Council resolution on the future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. [Continue reading…]

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