The Palestinian national movement was given the opportunity to build a state by the Olso accords in 1994 and failed. Two years ago, when Israel pulled out of Gaza, the Palestinians failed even to consolidate and exploit the elements of sovereignty, such as territorial contiguity and potentially unfettered passage to the Arab world, embodied in Israel's withdrawal initiative. While Israeli mistakes have undoubtedly contributed to and amplified these Palestinian failures, the blame has to be laid first and foremost at the Palestinian doorstep.
Then, in January 2006, came Hamas' rise to power in the Palestinian Authority. Hamas' rejection of the principle of a two-state solution further reinforced doubts in Israel and the world regarding the ongoing viability of the two-state idea for solving the conflict.
These developments, in turn, have nurtured speculation in Israel about alternatives. Most prominent among the ideas currently mentioned--some new, some recycled--are a long-term hudna or ceasefire with Hamas, a readiness on the part of Jordan and/or Egypt to reestablish their rule in the West Bank and/or the Gaza Strip, and the possibility of severing the Gaza-West Bank link and letting each territory go its separate way.
Nor is such speculation limited to Israel. Some prominent Jordanians have begun to discuss the necessity and advisability of a more active Jordanian role in the West Bank, to the extent of reviving long-dormant ideas about East Bank/West Bank federation or confederation. And some media reports indicate that Palestinian public opinion is increasingly open to discussion of renewing full-fledged Israeli occupation as a last ditch alternative to growing anarchy.
Yet we must be extremely wary of succumbing to the temptation to conclude that the two-state solution is no longer viable. If we have learned anything from the events of the past 20 years in the Israeli-Palestinian sphere, it is that no development, trend or dynamic is irreversible. The Oslo accords did not, as many predicted back in the 1990s, prevent a return to open conflict. Current speculation about the IDF reoccupying all or parts of the Gaza Strip reflects the insight that Israel's unilateral withdrawal was not necessarily the last word in that department, either.
How could we conceivably get back to a serious attempt to activate a two-state solution? One obvious precondition is the emergence of more determined and talented leadership--in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Washington. Another favorable development could be a greater readiness on the part of the moderate Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, to actively "chaperone" the process within the framework of the Arab peace initiative. They could, for example, agree to negotiate in areas where the PLO has failed to come up with workable compromises, such as the right of return and Jerusalem, that involve broader Arab interests.
Were Fateh to overcome Hamas in elections or even by force of arms in a civil war, one outcome could be the revival of a viable negotiating process over a two-state solution. Alternatively, successful Israeli-Syrian negotiations that produced a peace agreement, closed the circle of reconciliation between Israel and its Arab state neighbors and cut Hamas off from outside sources of funding and supply could persuade Palestinians they had no alternative but to make the concessions necessary for a successful two-state agreement.
None of these developments is probable in the immediate future. But all are possible. Experience teaches us that unanticipated events and dynamics are often the norm in the Arab-Israel conflict. The two-state solution remains the best outcome for Israelis, Palestinians, the surrounding Arab world and the international community. Hence Israel, moderate Palestinians and our Arab neighbors must look for effective ways to manage the conflict until the arrival of better times and new opportunities.- Published 11/6/2007 © bitterlemons.org
The two-state solution is still possible but time is running out. Man-made developments on the ground and internal politics in both Israel and Palestine are working against it. Based on the assumption that a Palestinian state is only possible by peaceful means, the actions of Israel and the international community are a major factor in determining its viability.
The two-state solution became a visible, realistic and widely recognized notion when the Palestinians changed their strategic political thinking from demanding their rights to historic Palestine to pursuing a solution to the conflict based on international legality. The rationale behind this was the belief that such a solution was not only possible, but it was acceptable to and even desired by the international community. Moreover, regardless of the way it was created and the injustice this inflicted on the Palestinian people, Israel had become a reality that had to be taken into consideration in any realistic Palestinian vision of the future.
The two-state solution subsequently became the main concept of President George Bush senior when he convened the international peace conference in Madrid in 1991. It is imbedded in countless United Nations resolutions and remains the guiding philosophy behind the roadmap.
Bur what was more important at the time was that there were no competing strategies or solutions. Everyone, except Israel, recognized the existence of two people competing for the same land. The logical solution would be to divide the land, especially since such a concept was rooted in international law with the very creation of Israel. In fact, it was a condition for the creation of Israel, as stipulated in the partition plan of 1947, UN Security Council Resolution 181. The borders are now envisaged to be the 1967 armistice lines simply because there is no other basis for alternatives. Any deviation from this would leave the issue to the balance of power between the two sides, something clearly unacceptable to the Palestinian side.
The peace process sparked by Oslo created the impression that such a solution was possible. More than that, from a Palestinian prospective the peace process was about ending the occupation and establishing a Palestinian state in return for peace. By the same logic, the difficulties that started to mount against the process indicated the challenges facing the prospect of a two-state solution.
Indeed, after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish terrorist, hope for such a solution started gradually to evaporate. But the real knock-out blow came not with any act of violence but with international acceptance of Ariel Sharon's unilateral policy and President George Bush junior's "strategy" of abandoning Middle East peace efforts. The American change of approach was interpreted by Sharon as a signal to go ahead and impose the future by force.
The unilateral strategy is a supreme challenge to the two-state solution, predicated as that solution it is on bilateral negotiations between the two parties to arrive at a just solution. If Israeli unilateralism is not stopped and reversed very soon, the two-state solution will cease to be viable. Israeli polices and practices have been undermining the viability of a Palestinian state for years now, first and foremost by fragmenting the Palestinian territory--separating not only the West Bank from the Gaza Strip, but West Bank areas from each other in a maze of settlements, settler-only roads, walls, checkpoints, concrete and barbed wire.
Furthermore, allowing access from Gaza to Egypt only and the West Bank to Jordan only creates a number of dangerous social, economic and political realities that can only be detrimental to the independence and integrity of any future Palestinian state. Time is running out. It still remains to be seen how serious the international community really is about the two-state solution.- Published 11/6/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is vice-president of Birzeit University and a former Palestinian Authority minister of planning.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
Egypt and Jordan hold the solution
by Efraim Inbar
Conventional wisdom partitions the Land of Israel into two states, Israel and Palestine, as the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The rationale of partition was generally accepted by the majority of the Zionists after 1937, but was rejected by the Palestinians. For many years, the Arab world concurred in opposing partition and the existence of a Jewish state. Egypt and Jordan, which occupied Gaza and the West Bank respectively in the 1948-67 period, bringing about a de facto partition, did not establish an independent Palestinian entity.
Israel's problem of finding a partner for partition became relevant after the 1967 war, when it conquered Gaza and the West Bank from Egypt and Jordan. Gradually, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) acquired the status of representing the Palestinians. The PLO did not accept the two-state formula, even within the 1947 partition borders, until the 1988 Algiers conference.
For years, Israel was reluctant to deal with the PLO until the Yitzhak Rabin government signed the Oslo accords in September 1993. The agreement led to a repartition of Palestine and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority over parts of Gaza and the West Bank, leaving its borders to be negotiated at a later stage.
At that time, the two-state solution was heralded as a recipe for peace and stability in the area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. Many suggested that the Palestinian national movement would be able to reach a historic compromise with the Zionist movement and subsequently establish a viable state that could exist peacefully next to Israel. Unfortunately, both assumptions have proven to be false.
The establishment of the embryonic Palestinian state led to increased bloodshed and instability. Terrorist organizations are more lethal when they have a territorial base. The discredited Oslo process allowed the PLO to gain such a foothold in the Holy Land.
In the post-1993 period, the number of Israeli (and Palestinian) casualties has increased tenfold. Similarly, the emergence of the PA led to the militarization of a fragmented Palestinian society, beleaguered by internecine struggles among a myriad of militias. Next to Israel lies a sick society, led by a pathological national movement, mesmerized by the use of force. It is a society that produces suicide bombers who have become role models in kindergartens and schools.
Yasser Arafat's unwillingness and/or inability to acquire a monopoly over the use of force further eroded the governing capacity of the PA. The escalation of the violent conflict with Israel since 2000 led to a collapse of law and order and pervasive corruption. The ascendance to power of the radical group Hamas in 2006 did not improve the PA's governance, despite hopes that the Islamists would be honest and effective administrators. Moreover, the Hamas government's refusal to recognize Israel further eroded the belief that the Palestinians are able to reach a historic compromise with the Jewish national movement. Such a notion was undermined by Arafat's refusal to sign a deal with Israel at Camp David in July 2000.
Unfortunately, the Palestinians usually shy away from introspection and blame outsiders, particularly Israelis, for all their misfortunes. Furthermore, they hope that the world will continue to subsidize their failed enterprise. Yet, the skepticism about the ability of the Palestinians to maintain a functioning state has become widespread in the world. Israel should capitalize on that awareness to help the international community reach the conclusion that the Palestinian experiment started at Oslo has basically failed and there is no effective Palestinian option.
Little can be done by outsiders to fix the Palestinian mess. Generally, foreigners are limited in their abilities to influence the domestic socio-political dynamics of Middle Eastern societies. Western political pressure and/or financial aid can hardly change entrenched ways of conducting political affairs. Foreign support to the Palestinians and the preservation of the UNWRA relief system only sustain the unsuccessful status quo, allowing for increased militarization of Palestinian society and prolonging its inclination to refrain from facing the grim reality navigated by its leaders. Nurturing the national hopes of the dysfunctional Palestinian national movement will only bring further suffering to the Palestinians and their neighbors.
The only chance to alleviate the Palestinian situation is foreign rule. Indeed their best friends, realizing that the Palestinians are not politically mature for self-rule, advocate an international mandate. Yet it is not at all clear why an international mandate enforced by an international force should be any more successful than the US in Iraq. Recalling the colonial record of the UK and France in the Middle East, the conclusion is inescapable that only Arabs can rule over Arabs by Arab methods.
The potential candidates for ruling over the Palestinians are Jordan and Egypt, as was done with relative success before 1967. The international community should encourage Egypt and Jordan's increased involvement in Palestinian affairs. These states have signed peace treaties with Jerusalem and behave more responsibly than the PA leadership. The peace initiative of the Arab League might become the mechanism for a transition from a two-state formula to a more realistic regional approach.- Published 11/6/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Efraim Inbar is professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University and director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
A possible alternative to amputation
by Samah Jabr
In the June 16, 2003 edition of bitterlemons.org, under the title "Tearing down the walls", I explained why I view the two-state solution as a desperate political option for Palestinians. To take this discussion one step forward, let us look at the psychological aspect of this question.
Irreplaceable time has been lost talking about a two-state solution. In the meantime, Israel has been working on a no-state solution: settlements are bigger, the wall is longer, the occupation is ever more committed and the political discourse of ethnic cleansing has gotten louder. Israel wants an endless occupation of either a self-destructing Palestine or a Palestine that provides "the hewers of wood and the drawers of water" forever.
In social psychology it has been argued that the importance of justice cannot be ignored in conflict resolution. Perceived fairness is an important determinant of human behavior and affective reactions. All peace proposals seem to ignore this important aspect. Deals are based on profoundly unjust divisions of land, water and natural wealth that establish a de facto ghettoization and promote slave labor by maintaining huge economic differences and a significant discrepancy in average income and basic labor rights while maintaining Israel's military superiority that will always threaten and jeopardize our survival.
Yet we are expected to accept Israel's pathological equation of safety with having a Jewish majority in a Jewish state. There is already a level of physical integration between Palestinians and Israelis, both inside and outside the green line. And there is no guarantee that Israel will remain a Jewish state due to the rapid growth of its Arab minority. What will happen then? Transfer or genocide? What about Palestinian fears? Why can't Israelis accept that a constitution that guarantees equality before the law and equality of opportunity will protect us from each other?
Palestinians have developed a very distinct and strong national identity that draws on the heritage, culture, narrative, glories and tragedies related to historic Palestine. Any amputation from this land is a profound trauma to our national pride and will always hurt us as a phantom pain for a lost limb that we feel intensely but others don't recognize.
I realize that it is impossible for both Israelis and Palestinians to discard their identities. But I believe that a larger group identity can be constructed, like the identity brought by a unity state, which does not conflict with the other two. Under constitutional protection that respects civic life, provides a guarantee of individual and group rights and thus organizes relationships we could engender a state of mutual respect and trust, rather than the manipulation and abuse inherent in the relationship between a dominant Israel and a weak and fractured Palestine.
After so great a loss of people, prestige, land and dignity a nation has to mourn. But the lack of acknowledgment and the mooted partial compensation leaves any possibility of mourning polluted by feelings of humiliation, rage, irredentism for what has been lost and a sense of entitlement to regain it that will always impair hopes of peace. In a two-state solution we shall internalize all those negative feelings, identify with our aggressor and live with psychological degeneration. Separation breaches legal equality and equality of opportunity and can never be fair or just; it will only exacerbate hatred, prejudice, fear and mistrust.
A unity state will not be the undoing of the historic injustices inflicted upon the Palestinian people. But it will allow us, after a full recognition of the wrongs and the subsequent possibility of true mourning, to forget about the past and put an end to ongoing injustices: the occupation of Palestine and the discrimination against Palestinians with Israeli citizenship.
On September 14, 2003, the New York Times reported a poll showing that 25 to 30 percent of Palestinians support the idea of a unity state. My own impression is that a majority of Palestinians holding Israeli citizenship view the one state proposition as the optimal one, this, without any serious supportive political or media advocacy.
Today, this solution seems ever more popular given the facts on the ground Israel has established, leaving no possibility that a viable, sovereign Palestinian state with real resources can be created out of the remnants of the pre-1967 borders. The Palestinian elections also exposed the US myth that two democratic states never fight each other.
The Palestinian struggle for liberation and justice can only come to fruition in a unity state. It is the only viable, desirable and sustainable solution that will restore to Palestinians their dignity and morality and guarantee freedom.
Let me add something personal. I'm a junior Palestinian psychiatrist and I work with a senior Israeli colleague. We sit together every couple of weeks and discuss patients and other matters. I like my mentor and I don't wish for her or hers any less than I wish for my own. To my mind, when I defend a unity state, I defend my rights as well as hers and our right to stay in touch. If this is lost for political reasons, it will only be a phantom pain in another lost limb.- Published 11/6/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Samah Jabr is a psychiatrist who is currently working at the Community Mental Health Clinics in Ramallah and Jericho and is a regular writer for the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs and the London-based monthly Palestine Times.
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Bitterlemons.org is an internet newsletter that presents Palestinian and Israeli viewpoints on prominent issues of concern. Each edition addresses a specific issue of controversy. Bitterlemons.org maintains complete organizational and institutional symmetry between its Palestinian and Israeli sides.