President Trump’s top national security adviser, John Bolton, dismissed the Palestinian territories as a “so-called state” during an appearance in the White House press briefing on Wednesday. Though he emphatically declared that Palestine is “not a state,” Bolton said it “could become” one and repeated Trump’s support for a two-state solution to the ongoing dispute between Israel and Palestine.
Bolton brought up the situation when he discussed a pair of steps the Trump administration is taking to shield itself from binding decisions made by the International Court of Justice, which is the U.N. body that resolves international disputes. Bolton said “politicized” use of the court led the U.S. to exit the 1955 treaty of amity with Iran. Bolton also announced that the U.S. would withdraw from what he called the “optional protocol” in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. The moves come after a ruling from the court that American sanctions against Iran were a violation of the 1955 treaty and after a complaint made by the Palestinians about the Trump administration’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel last December.
“The president has decided that the United States will withdraw from the optional protocol and dispute resolution to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. This is in connection with a case brought by the so-called state of Palestine naming the United States as a defendant challenging the move of our embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” Bolton said.
President Trump expressed support for a two-state solution at the U.N. General Assembly last week. The president’s son-in-law and top adviser, Jared Kushner, has been working on a peace plan that is highly anticipated in the region and due to be unveiled soon. While the White House has a strong relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, this planning has proceeded without input from the Palestinians, who cut off contact with the U.S. in the wake of the embassy move. Since then, the Trump administration has cut aid and shuttered the Palestinians’ mission in Washington.
Bolton was subsequently questioned about whether his characterization of Palestine as a “so-called state” was “productive,” given Trump’s stated goal of a two-state solution. While he said Trump does support the creation of two states in the region, Bolton described his characterization of Palestine’s current status as “accurate.”
“Of course it’s not a state now. It does not meet the customary international law test of statehood. It doesn’t control defined boundaries. It doesn’t fulfill the normal functions of government. There are a whole host of reasons why it’s not a state. It could become a state, as the president said, but that requires diplomatic negotiations with Israel and others.”
The Palestinian territories include the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The majority of the West Bank is under Israeli military control, but portions of it are under the joint control of Israel and the Palestinian authority. The Gaza Strip is governed by Hamas, but Israel maintains control of its airspace and coastline. While the U.S. does not recognize Palestine as a state, 137 of the 193 U.N. member countries do.
Bolton went on to say that his view of Palestine was in line with “a position that the United States government has pursued uniformly since 1988 when the Palestinian Authority declared itself to be the state of Palestine.”
“We don’t recognize it as the state of Palestine,” Bolton said. “We have consistently across Democratic and Republican administrations opposed the admission of Palestine to the United Nations as a state because it’s not a state.”
After Trump expressed support for a two-state solution, Netanyahu said that based on his conversations with the president, he was confident that the Americans “understand” that Israel would not relinquish security control in the region as part of the creation of a Palestinian state. At the briefing, Bolton was asked whether the Trump administration’s peace plan would indeed call for Israel to retain security control.
“We’ve been working, as you well know, on a peace plan involving Israel and the Palestinians. We’ll be rolling it out in due course when we decide it’s the most appropriate time to do it, and I’m sure that will answer your question then,” Bolton said.