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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 October 2018

UN postcard: Could the two-state solution get a new lease of life?

UN General Assembly 2018: President Trump's comment was the clearest expression yet of his support for such an outcome

US President Donald Trump (R) meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on September 26, 2018 in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. / AFP / Nicholas Kamm
US President Donald Trump (R) meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on September 26, 2018 in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. / AFP / Nicholas Kamm

On the eve of Palestinian and Israeli leaders addressing the United Nations General Assembly, American President Donald Trump unexpectedly announced his commitment to the two-state solution. In a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mr Trump announced for the first time that he supports the two-state solution. “I like [a] two-state solution,” Mr Trump said. “That’s what I think works best.”

And yet, that support is tied to “security controls” for any potential future state of Palestine, which is a non-starter for Palestinians.

Earlier this year, there had been initial expectations that an American plan for Middle East peace would be unveiled at the UNGA. But no such plan emerged. In another unexpected turn, Mr Trump announced during the bilateral meeting with Mr Netanyahu that the plan would be ready in “two, three, four months”.

He also added that he would like a peace deal to be stuck in his first term – which is up in two years. And yet, with Trump’s confirmation in New York that his country supports Israel “100 per cent”, weeks after closing Palestine’s representative office in Washington DC, the American plan is looking less and less acceptable to the Palestinians, even before it is announced.

Although he did not mention peace between the Palestinians and Israelis last year, Mr Trump said in his UNGA speech on Tuesday that "the United States is committed to a future of peace and stability in the region, including peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians".

It is a testament to how low the bar has been set on this issue that even mentioning it is seen as somewhat positive. And yet Mr Trump followed by saying "that aim is advanced, not harmed, by acknowledging the obvious facts". According to him, those facts are that Jerusalem can be made the capital of Israel by moving the US embassy there – even though the fact remains that the UN recognises Jerusalem as occupied.

The UN has an integral role to play now. As UN Security Council resolutions continue to set the tone for international consensus on Palestine, diplomats in New York this week said there is a chance for Arab and European leaders to reinstate an international lead on the issue. After unilateral Israeli and American moves, an international effort is needed to bring the two-state solution back to life a quarter of a century after the Oslo Accords.

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Read more coverage from the UN General Assembly:

Trump puts Iran's regional aggression at centre of UNGA speech

UN chief Antonio Guterres urges world leaders to promote global co-operation

Emmanuel Macron's foreign limelight is an escape from darkness at home

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King Abdullah of Jordan dedicated most of his UNGA speech to the importance of safeguarding the rights of Palestinians, promoting the two-state solution and warning of the consequences of threatening the identity of Jerusalem. He warned that this issue is not just important to the region, but to the “billions for whom Jerusalem is holy”.

French President Emmanuel Macron warned that ‘the trampling on Palestinian rights’ and pursuing "fait acompli" policies will not bring peace. Mr Macron received Palestinian President Mahmood Abbas in Paris last Friday in an attempt to solidify the Palestinian leader's weakened position.

But in the end, it will be the Palestinians and Israelis who will be faced with bringing any peace deal to life. On Thursday, Mr Abbas and Mr Netanyahu will present their views. It is hoped that they present a vision on the way forward. But it is a slim hope. Visionary statements have not been either man’s strong suit.