Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu omitted a reference to the two-state solution in a joint declaration Thursday with his Australian counterpart, Malcolm Turnbull. It appeared to be the first formal manifestation of a dramatic scaling back of Israeli support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an idea that for years has been promoted by the international community.
“Both countries re-stated their support for a directly negotiated peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Australia affirmed its support for a two-state solution,” read the declaration issued by Netanyahu and Turnbull in Sydney, where the prime minister is on a state visit.
While Israel has not explicitly walked back its previous commitment to accept, in principle, a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes Israel as a Jewish state, the fact that the statement cited only Australia as backing the two-state solution was telling.
In contrast, on November 22 — two weeks after Donald Trump’s upset US election victory but two months before his inauguration — Israel, in a joint declaration with the Polish government, said “that a just and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must and can be reached only based on the principle of two states for two peoples.”
The ostensible change in Jerusalem’s policy is likely the result of the US president’s statement last week that he can live with either a two-state or a one-state solution.
“So I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like,” Trump said in a joint press conference with Netanyahu during the prime minister’s state visit to Washington. “I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one.”
Ahead of their February 15 meeting in the White House, Netanyahu had been under pressure from his far-right coalition partners to back away from the idea of Palestinian statehood.
Since his sit-down with Trump, Netanyahu has carefully avoided restating his long-held willingness to establish a Palestinian state under certain conditions. On the other hand, he has argued that his stance has not changed, and that he is not interested in annexing the West Bank and granting Israeli citizenship to the millions of Palestinians living there.
“I want the Palestinians to be able to govern themselves and to have all the freedoms to do so, but not the freedom to destroy the Jewish state,” he said repeatedly this week when asked about the issue.
Dodging questions on the matter from reporters during a press conference in Sydney Wednesday, Netanyahu said he was interested in talking about substance and not labels. Proponents of the two-state solution should explain what kind of Palestinian state they are seeking, he said. “A state that calls for Israel’s destruction? A state whose territory will be used immediately for radical Islam?”
Israel withdrew in 2005 from the Gaza Strip, which then became a “terrorist state of Hamas,” Netanyahu said. “They fired thousands and thousands of missiles at us. So clearly when people say they are ‘for’ a Palestinian state, they are not ‘for’ that kind of state. What kind of state would they be talking about?”
The first condition the Palestinians had to fulfill was to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, he said, reiterating a longstanding position.
“Secondly, we know that in the realities of the Middle East, if Israel is not there to ensure security, then that state very quickly will become another bastion of radical Islam,” Netanyahu continued. “So this is what I’ve been talking about and I’ve been talking about it for eight years. I said we have to make sure that the Palestinians recognize the Jewish state and we have to ensure that Israel has the overriding security control of all the territories, all the territories.”
Asked how he envisioned a one-state solution, the prime minister stressed that he does not want to “incorporate” millions of Palestinians into Israel. “Nor do I want them as subjects of Israel. I want them to have all the freedoms to govern themselves, but none of the powers to threaten us. That is the essence of what we’re suggesting. Let them govern themselves but let them not have the military and physical power to threaten the State of Israel.”
In Thursday’s joint declaration, Australia reaffirmed “Israel’s right to exist, as the nation-state of the Jewish people, in peace within secure borders, and its steadfast opposition to attempts to undermine Israel’s legitimacy.”
Recognition of Israel’s status as the nation state of the Jewish people is a core demand Jerusalem has for any peace deal with the Palestinians, though few in the international community have expressed support for it. So far, only the US, Germany and Canada have recognized Israel as a Jewish state.
On Iran, an issue Netanyahu has long been outspoken about, Australia and Israel agreed that Tehran “must fully implement its obligations under UN Security Council resolutions, and expressed concern about Iran’s ballistic missile program.”
Both countries also expressed concern over Iran’s support for Hezbollah and the threat the Iran-allied Lebanese Shiite terror group “poses to regional security.”
During Netanyahu’s four-day visit to Sydney, the first by a sitting Israeli prime minister, Israel and Canberra signed three bilateral agreements and agreed to further enhance political and economic cooperation.