On the surface of it, Donald Trump seemed to make a huge shift in the US imperialist policy in the Middle East yesterday, Wednesday.
In a press conference with Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Trump announced he was not committed to a “two-state” solution between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel.
For over 50 years the US has supported Israel, which protects its interests in the Middle East. But since 1993 it has also promised to help establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Instead Trump said he was “looking at two-state and one-state” solutions, and potentially “happy” with any. His remarks were interpreted as support for possible Israeli annexation of the West Bank, which it has occupied since 1967.
They also give Netanyahu licence to be more aggressive towards Palestinians.
Trump also repeated his plans to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem—which would be a major provocation.
It was a break from the approach of previous US president Barak Obama, who made a point of appearing committed to a future Palestinian state.
But unresolvable tensions at the heart of the strategy were already making it unworkable.
It was originally a response to a Palestinian uprising, the First Intifada. The promise of statehood was a way of co-opting Palestinian leaders into policing the resistance, and tying them to US imperialism.
But after more than 20 years Israel has shown it will never tolerate a Palestinian state.
It has instead grabbed even more Palestinian land by riddling the West Bank with illegal settlements and refusing negotiations. Netanyahu insists that all these settlements would be annexed to Israel under any two-state solution.
His insistence on Wednesday that Israel “must retain the overriding security control” over the whole West Bank shows that a future Palestinian state would always be under its thumb.
Through this the US has continued to fully back Israel by funnelling billions of dollars towards its military while defending it at the United Nations.
And it has made sure that any future Palestinian state would be tied to Israel’s economy.
The only real solution would be a single state with full rights for Palestinians, including those driven out by Israel’s ethnic cleansing.
Now the PA is in crisis as its failure to challenge Israel means that it is becoming ever more unpopular.
A recent survey of Palestinians show that two thirds don’t believe the two-state solution can work—and 64 percent want Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to resign.
Meanwhile in Israel, Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party thrives on its anti-Arab racism and promises to attack Palestinians.
It is propped up in a coalition by a party even further to its right, Jewish Home, which demands full annexation of the West Bank.
This brought it into conflict with Obama, who needed the fiction of the two-state solution to keep the PA going and on side.
Yet Trump’s new approach won’t overcome the growing tensions.
Instead it has spooked Israeli politicians who fear that anything other than a two-state solution would threaten the existence of Israel as a Jewish-only state.
And it certainly won’t help with growing dissatisfaction with the PA among Palestinians, which is bringing it ever closer to collapse.
What Trump’s strategy has in common with Obama’s is that it tries to keep an uneasy balance between supporting Israel while keeping the PA on side.
And like Obama, he’s going to find that ever more difficult.