The recent indications from the United States that it no longer considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal under international law is far from surprising. Under President Donald Trump, the vision for the peace process has been clearly based on three pillars. The first is to leverage the economic hardship of Palestinians and peoples across the region. The second is to impose realities under the banner of practical solutions. And finally, the third and most important pillar is to reshape the current situation in order to position for de facto status to maintain the new status quo. Under this roadmap, the Trump administration’s actions can be tracked, from the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, to moving the US embassy there, to annexing the Golan Heights to Israel and now to recognising Israeli settlements as legal.
While many will argue that this is a tactical move by the US to relieve some internal political pressure in Israel over the settlements, but that would not consider the lack of pressure stopping the US from making this move. Within Palestine, there are already so many critical issues, and with the high dependence on the US for financial, security and political support, it is extremely difficult for the Palestinian Authority to oppose the move. With Palestinian politics so fragile and divided, and not just in the traditional Gaza and West Bank, but even within those old groups as Fateh and Hamas, both seem irrevocably split.
These divisions, the lack of authority and the Palestinian Authority’s indebtedness to the US, the risk of a large Intifada or armed conflict appears minimal. Even at the regional level, Palestinian issues are not at the top of the Arab agenda, where internal instability, economic issues, social instability and political change hold the attention of many across the region. The timing of this move from the US means that it is unlikely to provoke a consequential response.
Internationally, there were obviously intensive diplomatic efforts to counter this approach, but in the end all they amounted to were rhetoric, slogans, conferences and talking. In reality, there have been no short-term implications, save for the change to the US’ position on the issue, and the new de facto situation being shaped.
If the international community and other major powers are serious about opposing the move, they will have to break the US’ now exclusive role in shaping the peace plan by at least offering an alternative supported by the international community. At this stage, they are betting on Trump’s defeat in the next election, which is no plan at all, because by the end of next year when the election comes around, the new de facto situation on the ground will have been established and it will be extremely difficult to get Israel to agree to roll back. This is the new reality and the foundation on which any peace plan of the future will be built.
Time and multiple peace processes have proved this, as each one has built on whatever the reality on the ground was at the time, without any chance of going back to previous realities.