The Answer is Apartheid: Trump, Netanyahu, and Friedman

Friedman's hearing was repeatedly interrupted by pro-Palestinian demonstrators. (Win McNamee/Getty Images North America)

“So, I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties want.” That was President Donald Trump’s offhand comment at his joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on February 15, 2017. Netanyahu smirked , and policy pundits’ jaws dropped. Although Trump’s offhand statement appeared to renounce long-standing U.S. support for a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, former U.S. officials and diplomats would be wrong to accuse him accordingly. Long before the current administration, American acquiescence in illegal settlements expansion and a corresponding refusal to penalize Israel for a half-century of occupation had already decisively eroded the foundations of a two-state solution.

True to his rhetorical style, Trump promised a potential peace deal whose greatness would be unimaginable. His Israeli interlocutor seemed less enthusiastic about striking a deal with the Palestinians, but allowed he would “try.” Nonetheless, Netanyahu was smiling again after eight years of bitter relations with former president Barack Obama. Netanyahu is not afraid to lecture American presidents, but in Trump he sees a president he can flatter. Trump did ask Netanyahu to restrain settlement building, but if the past is any guide, Israel will ignore all such pleas. The deck is stacked against Trump, as it was against Obama, but critics of these two heads of state should spare the world — and especially Palestinians — any righteous posturing about Trump’s recklessness.

Friedman's hearing was repeatedly interrupted by pro-Palestinian demonstrators. (Win McNamee/Getty Images North America)
Friedman’s hearing was repeatedly interrupted by pro-Palestinian demonstrators. (Win McNamee/Getty Images North America)

The following day, on February 16, Trump’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to Israel, the anti-Palestinian and illegal settlements financier David Friedman, attended his confirmation hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Gone was the Friedman of arrogant comportment and unvarnished contempt for Palestinians. In his opening remarks, Friedman gave a perfunctory apology for his “hurtful” words that had smeared Jewish critics of Israel as worse than Nazi collaborators and his accusation that President Obama was guilty of “blatant anti-Semitism.” Friedman attributed these past remarks to the heated presidential campaign, but many of his statements actually predated the campaign. More than a few Senators expressed incredulity that the suddenly measured Friedman was being sincere while others instead fanned falsehoods about Palestine.

Palestinians Teach Hate

Senator Johnson (R-WI): “In their education system for decades, they’ve [Palestinians] been teaching pretty vile things about Israelis and Jews, correct?”

Friedman: “Yes they have.”

This false claim has been propagated for years, not only concerning the Palestinian curriculum, but also children’s television programs and cartoons. While there have been isolated incidents of this kind, programmed chiefly by Hamas, the truth is that neither Palestinian society nor the Palestinian leadership embrace the messages behind the false claims that Palestinians are terror-loving, Jew-hating people. In fact, pro-Israel partisans and extremist groups have promulgated these untruths by altering English “translations” of Palestinian textbooks.

Palestinians Don’t Recognize Israel

Senator Rubio (R-FL): “Somehow, the United States needs to be a fair and balanced arbiter in this situation that we’re facing in the Middle East. I don’t understand that, I really don’t…. How are you going to negotiate a peaceful coexistence with a neighbor who does not recognize your right to exist [as a Jewish State]… Is that an accurate characterization?”

Friedman: “I think it is, Senator.”

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) formally and publicly recognized Israel in November 1988. The late PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat exchanged letters, reaffirming the PLO’s position, with the late Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin after the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accord spearheaded by the United States during the first Clinton administration. Israel, in turn, only recognized the PLO as negotiating representatives for the Palestinian people without granting them a modicum of national sovereignty. Israel pocketed the Palestinians’ official recognition, and then proceeded to bury any would-be Palestinian state under hundreds of new settlements.

BDS and SodaStream

Senator Portman (R-OH): “One specific issue that I want to raise is BDS. Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions. . . . But just talk to us HOW as an ambassador to Israel you can be an effective communicator on the BDS issue and [pushing] back, combating what I think is a global effort that needs strong support from the United States to combat it.”

Friedman's hearing was repeatedly interrupted by pro-Palestinian demonstrators. (Win McNamee/Getty Images North America)
Friedman’s hearing was repeatedly interrupted by pro-Palestinian demonstrators. (Win McNamee/Getty Images North America)

Friedman: “SodaStream was an extraordinary successful [Israeli] company that employed hundreds of Palestinians . . . and it was a paradigm of Israelis and Palestinians working together. And because SodaStream happened to be on the wrong side of the Green Line, they were boycotted . . . and the Palestinians lost their job. This is an entirely self-defeating prospect, not only for Israel, but for the Palestinians as well.”

SodaStream, an Israeli company that was based in an illegal settlement and later relocated following a BDS campaign, might have looked like a rosy venture between Arabs and Jews, but the power asymmetry between an Israeli occupying employer and a captive Palestinian labor force paints a different picture. The reality, as Palestinian scholar Leila Farsakh has observed, is that the “majority of Palestinian workers would leave their jobs in the settlements if they could find any alternative employment in the Palestinian labor market…. What Palestinians need is not more jobs in settlements…. [but] the full realization of their rights under international law.”

Two-State or One-State Solution?

Senator Kaine (D-VA): “Palestinians wouldn’t like any one-state solution unless they have full and equal legal rights in such a state, correct?”

Friedman: “I don’t think anyone would ever support a state where different classes of citizens had separate rights.”

Maybe Friedman is being unimaginative? A Pew poll last year found that 48 percent of Israelis “say Arab citizens of Israel should be transferred or expelled from [the country].” Many Israeli proponents of West Bank annexation oppose even second-class status for Palestinians, proposing instead statelessness or “autonomy” for Palestinians who would be confined to urban enclaves. Indeed, second-class citizenship is already enshrined in 50 discriminatory Israeli laws for the 20 percent of Israeli citizens who are Palestinians. Also of note, Friedman has accused Palestinian citizens of Israel of “seditious behavior.”

The Economic Peace Myth and the Settlements

Friedman has a vision for the Palestinians that Netanyahu has dubbed “economic peace.” Claiming that most Palestinians want a normal life, Friedman suggested (on their behalf) that they care less about the “flag” over their heads than about quality of life issues. Naturally, Palestinians want to feed and educate their children, but self-determination and freedom from foreign occupation are not incidental to these desires; rather, they are essential to basic Palestinian well-being. Friedman threw-in his lot with the Israeli right wing’s hubristic belief that an improvement in economic conditions will somehow end Palestinian opposition to their ongoing humiliation and subjugation.

Friedman is an illegal settlements financier, but when asked if he’d support uprooting the settlements in the event of a two-state solution, he replied that he would. Friedman’s support for settlements has been so strong that he chastised the pro-settler Israeli government for announcing new settlements in response to Palestinian violence (a form of collective punishment), because this implied concomitantly that Palestinian nonviolence would be met with an end to settlements. Instead, Friedman implored, Israel should build “in all cases.”

The Answer is Apartheid

As Friedman’s confirmation hearing came to an end, there was a rare moment of clarity when Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) pondered what the world should call a situation where an occupying power proposes a solution that “is not fully compatible with what we’d describe [as] a two-state solution.” Corker demurred, as did Friedman, who said he does not have a good word to articulate a response.

The answer, clearly, is Apartheid.