In the days following the election of Donald Trump, there was a post from a fundamentalist pastor who I went to high school with who thanked God for the election Donald Trump because "Israel now has a protector in the White House." I commented at the time in a podcast, that I actually think a Trump Administration in the long run could be dangerous for Israel. His proposal of the extremist David Friedman for ambassador to Israel as well as unequivocal embracing of Netanyahu is aligning with a trajectory of policies that jeopardizes the very democratic ideals on which the state of Israel was founded.
My concerns were confirmed in yesterday's joint news conference President Trump had with the visiting Netanyahu . It should be noted that Trump did state off-handedly that Israel should hold off on new settlements and he called for greater flexibility from both Israel and Palestinians. Trump also acknowledge that the anti-Semitic dogma embed in Palestinian education (which is true; there is also bias in how the conflict is taught in some Israeli circles) needed to change.
But then at one point Trump said this:
"So I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. (Laughter.) I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one.
I thought for a while the two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two. But honestly, if Bibi and if the Palestinians -- if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best."
I am not sure anyone is happy right now and nothing is easy in the Middle East.
This is how the Israeli newspaper Haaretz described the press conference:
But along with the warm and fuzzy atmosphere there was a lot of ignorance, internal contradictions, political sloganeering and more than a few disagreements that were elegantly shoved aside...But everything uttered by the U.S. president must be taken with a grain of salt. What was clearer than anything at the press conference is that Trump and his people have very limited, at best, familiarity with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and are very far from formulating a coherent strategy.
President Trump's modus operandi may still excite his base, but it is dangerous and irresponsible when it comes to something as complicated as Israel-Palestine.
I have no illusions that a two-state solution can happen in the current environment, given the unresolved concerns of both the Israelis and the Palestinians, in addition to the general turmoil of the region. I know very well the challenges of the geography, politics, and the hardening of differences in the post Second Intifada world. Sometimes waiting is the only option; but it is not the same thing as abandoning.
But I also know this: that there are only two ultimate outcomes in a one state solution and they are mutually exclusive. 1. If the one state is truly democratic, then eventually Israel would no longer be a Jewish State, because Jews would be a minority of the population. 2. If the one state were to remain a Jewish one, than eventually a majority of its inhabitants would have to be considered as "less than" citizens and then it would it effect become a apartheid state.
I refuse to believe that supporting Israel's right to be a Jewish state and the support for a Palestinian state are mutually exclusive. One of my Jewish colleagues liked to call my position "the radical fridge middle," and maybe it is, but I see no other way for sustainable security, peace and justice for Israelis and Palestinians. It also happens to be the official position of the United States going back to at least Ronald Regan if not before. A one state solution would invite the probability of a bloody civil war that would inevitably escalate into a regional if not international conflict
For over a decade, I had the privileged to be deeply involved in Jewish-Christian dialogue that culminated with the opportunity to study in Israel for two summers under some of the best religious, political, and philosophical Jewish scholars in the world. Not only do I cherish the friendships created in the course of those years of study and dialogue, but I am better thinker and for that matter a better Christian because of those relationships and opportunities. One of the things that impressed me the most was how these Jewish and Israeli scholars sought to keep in tension their Zionism (the need and legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state) and their Judaism (the belief in ideals of justice and equality for all peoples, including the Palestinians). It is a delicate balancing act to maintain when living in a hostile and dangerous geo-political neighborhood.
Less edifying during the same time period were my attempts to navigate a middle way between a "Middle Eastern war of proxy" being waged within American Christianity. On one side, there are the Christian Zionist whose idiosyncratic reading of both Biblical prophecy and history lead them to see in the current state of Israel the very hand of God orchestrating the beginning of the Apocalypse. This leads to a default position that Israel can do no wrong and many in Congress seem to at least give lip service to this notion.
On the other side, are those who view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the liberation theology lenses of oppressor-oppressed, who in their legitimate concern for the rights of the Palestinians often embrace aspects of supersessionist* theology and a sometimes thinly veiled anti-semitic rhetoric. The BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement against Israel, singles out the injustices inherent to the occupation of the West Bank, while often turning a blind eye to atrocities committed by other countries.
I think both of the extremes positions distort history and are wrong theologically which lead to bad politics and policy, Though I do not doubt their sincerity, from my perspective they do not help any of the parties in the long run and risk doing harm to the very people they care for. It does need to be noted that there are many thoughtful Christian leaders and theologians who are committed to being balanced in their approach to the conflict. They seek to build relationships with, listen to, and partner with Israelis (Jews, Muslims, Christians) and Palestinians who are tirelessly and courageously working for peace, justice, and understanding. "Blessed are the Peacemakers......"
We do not live in an age of nuance. Neither is there an appreciation, nor patience for the hard work of discovering facts and taking into account differing realities. None of that can be done in tweet. But you would think that after the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people in the region, we might want to try. Frequently, American Christians after one 10 day visit to the Holy Land suddenly have clarity as to "what is really going on" and come back home and passionately share their ignorance. I am afraid our president may have been on that tour bus.
*Supersessionism is the idea that the Church has replaced Israel as God's chosen people, therefore nullifying God's promises to Israel.