The near collapse of the roadmap in a hail of suicide bombers and helicopter gunships in the course of the past ten days is a poignant reminder of the fragility of our efforts to achieve a two state solution. Indeed, the idea of an agreed two state solution for Israelis and Palestinians has a very short and troubled history.
Throughout most of the conflict, international efforts to achieve a two state solution, including of course United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 of 1947, were systematically rejected by the Palestinian leadership (and accepted by the Zionist and later Israeli leadership). Only in 1988 did the Palestinian National Council, meeting in Algiers, ratify 181 for the first time.
By that time the Israeli leadership had long abandoned the two state solution, in favor of a variety of alternatives that were developed and advocated after the 1967 conquest of the West Bank and Gaza Strip: returning part of the territories to Jordan; autonomy; "Jordan is Palestine", etc. Even the 1993 Oslo agreement, though made possible by the PNC's 1988 decision, failed to provide bilateral endorsement for the two state solution. In the ensuing years, Israeli prime ministers Rabin and Peres were able to skirt the issue because they were concentrating on Oslo interim agreements. PM Netanyahu rejected a two state solution.
Only in the course of the past three years has an agreed two state solution emerged. It was Barak, at Camp David and Taba, backed by United States President Clinton, who first offered the Palestinians a state of their own. When Yasir Arafat rejected the terms of that offer in favor of violence, it became officially "null and void." Then Ariel Sharon became the first Israeli prime minister to officially endorse the idea, and George W. Bush the first American president to make a two state solution an official goal of US Middle East policy. Only in March 2002 did the UN Security Council, in Resolution 1397, endorse the idea--at about the same time that the Arab League ratified it within the framework of the Saudi initiative. It is of course striking that this rush to embrace a two state solution took place only after the process itself had collapsed into violence.
This brief survey of the short history, and consequent fragility, of the two state solution is particularly significant for those in the peace camp, in Israel and beyond, who have believed in and worked for this solution for decades, and who take it for granted.
It should not be taken for granted. While most Israelis today favor a two state solution, many of the critical actors are less than fully committed. Sharon's version--a chain of non-viable enclaves--is a sham and a non-starter with Palestinians, hence not a formula for an agreed solution. The most energetic and dedicated sector on the Israeli political scene, the settlers, are working hard (at times with Sharon's help) to make a viable two state solution impossible.
While most Palestinians endorse the idea, they also insist that Israel accept the right of return of Palestinian refugees to the Jewish state, which contradicts the logic of a two state solution and is unacceptable to the Israeli mainstream. And President Bush has yet to prove that he is willing and able to enforce or impose his welcome vision of a genuine two state solution.
Meanwhile the settlements and outposts spread, ostensibly ensuring that Israel will "win" the territorial war, even as Palestinian population growth ensures that Israel will lose the demographic war and cease to be a Jewish, democratic state. With every passing day it becomes more difficult to repartition mandatory Palestine, in the language of 181, between "Arab and Jewish states." More and more Palestinians, including many moderates, are reverting to advocacy of a single state solution, which might be called "Israel" for a few decades but will gradually become an Arab state with an embattled Jewish minority.
After the Oslo Declaration of Principles was signed in September 1993, many key actors and observers pronounced the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and a two state solution "irreversible". The past 32 months have demonstrated just how mistaken they were. Nothing appears to be irreversible in this conflict. Hence we must be cautious in defining that virtual red line of geography, demography, hatred and politics beyond which a two state solution is irretrievable. Certainly the mainstream on both sides has not given up on the idea.
Yet unless Israelis can demonstrate convincingly a state-level capacity to roll back the settlement movement, and Palestinians can prove at the state level a capability of stopping violence and honoring the Jewish nature of Israel, the two state solution is liable to be seen in historic retrospect as a very brief episode in the tragic annals of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But how do we manage the conflict without it?
Yossi Alpher is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies and a former senior adviser to PM Ehud Barak.
When the two-state solution is no longer a practical possibility, we may not have the luxury of deciding what to do: there are few remaining choices. The unraveling of the two state solution is going to leave us with one state, in a variety of possible forms ranging from a government of “one person, one vote” to that of an apartheid state. Israel (and particularly this right-wing government, which is ideologically opposed to two equal and independent states) is trying to push for “autonomous” arrangements whereby Palestinians will control the smallest possible landmass, while squeezing into that area the highest number of Palestinians possible. This “autonomy” will then be rigged to be fully surrounded by Israeli sovereignty on the whole of Israel/Palestine, from the sea to the river. In other words, we Palestinians and Israelis are being offered an apartheid solution where one state will include two ethnic groups, a majority and minority, that answer to two distinct sets of laws, are served by two levels of infrastructure and maintain two entirely disparate socio-economic levels.
This end result is not going to solve anything, least of all the mutual hostility and fighting, because Palestinians will continue to demand their rights and to correct the injustice they have been done. Subsequently, Israel will never be settled as a stable and normal state in the region and will maintain its negative international reputation.
At the moment, political developments are significantly advancing this prognosis. Not only due to ongoing hostilities, but also because of the current layout of settlements in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem, a viable and contiguous Palestinian state is difficult to conceive of. As one Palestinian professor put it recently at a Birzeit University conference, “Five years ago, we were saying that if settlement expansion continues at current rates, then it would jeopardize the two state solution. Now I am saying that we are already at the point of no return, but for those in the audience with their doubts, just imagine things five years from now.”
In other words, either the two state solution is already an impossibility or we are fast moving in that direction. Given the minute chance that current trends will be reversed by political developments, we must begin planning for this eventuality. What is most frustrating is that this situation is by no means an act of God. The expansion of Israeli settlements is man-made, the result of deliberate policies pursued by successive governments of Israel. And in this situation, Palestinian extremists will be happier, riding the new realities created by the Israeli extremists that happen to sit in the Israeli government today.
Once the two state solution is dead, our fate will lie in one of two directions: in a single democratic state where religion and ethnicity do not determine the allotment of rights and resources, or in a limbo where religion and nationality are the basis for violence and instability and hatred for decades to come. In this scenario, both peoples are guaranteed more than their fair share of suffering. For this reason, the practices of the right wing Israeli government are more dangerous than they appear at face value. Not only is this government dismissing today’s small chance to sue for peace, but it is preempting the possibility for peace in the future by doing away with the basic physical outlines of two independent states.
Ghassan Khatib is minister of labor in the Palestinian Authority cabinet. He has served for many years as a political analyst and media contact.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
A civil war that both sides will lose
an interview with Yaron Ezrahi
bitterlemons: How do we know when the two state solution is no longer viable?
Ezrahi: The end of the two state solution will be indicated by a situation whereby the settlements, in view of the political and demographic force they represent, obstruct or undermine the possibility of drawing a border between the state of Israel and the designated state of Palestine. In other words, a border becomes politically non-feasible for the Israeli leadership and possibly for the Palestinian leadership as well.
We are talking here about a process. It is enough for the opposition to a two state solution on both sides to maintain a level of violence that prevents political agreement, to accelerate the process leading to a one state "solution".
When the political costs of drawing a border exceed the gains, then a border can only be imposed from outside.
bitterlemons: Are you suggesting that the international community would intervene to impose a border in order to maintain a two state solution?
Ezrahi: The question is not whether they will intervene, but whether their intervention will be vigorous enough to make a difference and prevent the disintegration of the two state solution. For example, both the settlers and the Palestinian extremists know the president of the United States has to worry about elections every two years, economic problems and other diversions. Their strategy is to create violence in order to delay significant political and diplomatic processes, particularly near moments of consummation, to prevent a resolution.
bitterlemons: How close are we to a point of no return?
Ezrahi: Very. If Palestinian patriots and the Palestinian leadership arrive at the conclusion that a one state solution is preferable because they will end up with greater Palestine with a Jewish minority rather than greater Israel with a Palestinian minority as the settlers want, then they will actually seek this result.
bitterlemons: What will be the effect on the two societies?
Ezrahi: The result will be to convince larger numbers of Israelis that the only way to survive as a state is through massive violence against the Palestinian population. In other words, if the course of events leading to a one state solution is not prevented, we are likely to move in the direction of civil war where each side seeks to exterminate and push out the other. This will prevent either community from realizing its capacity for a polity.
So one ongoing incentive for a two state solution should be the ability of the Palestinian leadership to project a war that both sides will lose and that does not result in a viable one state solution, and the ability of the Israeli leadership to project the dangers of such a war; the ability of leadership on both sides to show the futility of abandoning the two state solution. This capacity to understand that we can destroy each other is more important than, say, the leadership of President Bush.
Every leader in this region has an automatic mandate from his/her constituency to take measures in defense of the community. No leader can claim to have a mandate to take measures that cause self-destruction. Do our leaders know the line that distinguishes between the two conditions? I'm afraid they need urgent help to redraw this line.
bitterlemons: In this context, how do you assess Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's commitment to a two state solution?
Ezrahi: Sharon has resolved that if there is an unambiguous historic opportunity to end the conflict, he will do his share. But for this historic opportunity to be compelling to him, it has to be extremely dangerous for Israel not to act in this way.
Sharon's definition of historic opportunity is very maximalist, due to a lack of trust. The question is whether the Palestinians, the Arabs and the US can seduce Sharon into reducing his expectations. For example, right now Syria is out of the game. But if it suddenly offers to moderate its position rather than support the extremists, this will constitute an incentive for the Sharon government and affect its ability to make painful compromises domestically.
bitterlemons: How will the demise of a two state solution affect the Jewish Diaspora worldwide?
Ezrahi: The end of the Zionist dream can take several forms, including the loss of a Jewish majority, loss of democracy, and a radical militarization of Israeli society. It will create a split within the Jewish people worldwide along fault lines that we can already see. On the one hand a very small minority, 15 to 25 percent, of people who know only ethnic solidarity and have no dreams other than survival and revenge. This is the group that supports the settlers ideologically. And on the other the majority, who will disengage.
Disengagement would be a tremendous blow to the idea of Jewish collectivity; if the only expression of that idea is a form of apartheid state, then Jewish youth worldwide will run away from Jewish identity. That would be an ironic and tragic outcome of the Zionist movement. Instead of becoming a spiritual center for the entire Jewish people, Israel would become the epicenter for the disintegration of the foundations of Jewish collectivity and solidarity in our time.
Yaron Ezrahi is a professor of political science at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute.
My ears are full of war cries; there is no doubt that we sit on the edge of a maelstrom of violence. But the "peace" that the world wishes upon us is based on walls: a two-state proposal that is mistakenly being called a "solution".
This solution will maintain the ethnic exclusivity of occupation and propagate profound inequalities in land and resources, water, economy, advancement and military between the two states. This solution will reward foreign occupiers by offering them legal status and normal relationships in the Middle East, while giving Palestinians bits and pieces of our homeland, cantons that are separated from each other by Jewish-only settlements and their safe roads.
This two-state solution advocates a demilitarized "Palestinian state" with no direct borders with any of its Arab neighbors, but surrounded by the Middle East's only nuclear power. A "transitional state," says the American administration, that will be bestowed on one condition--that we Palestinians behave and "elect" a "reformed" and "democratic" authority--and then only after another three years of occupation.
And so, while Israel continues to welcome "refugees" from 2,000 years ago, extolling its war criminals as national heroes and electing them as prime minister, we Palestinians are expected to give up the right of return, to abandon our political prisoners and to condemn our fighters.
Palestinians are described sometimes as the last colonized people, the last frontier of genocide and ethnic cleansing--words we deign to speak for fear of being labeled anti-Semitic. Always we must coach our own horror in appreciation for Jewish suffering.
At home, I look out of the kitchen window to see that the Israeli flags have moved forward, closer to our neighborhood, demarcating the new boundaries of the Pisgat Ze'ev settlement. The Israelis claim that they want peace after separation--they are establishing a wall between us for security reasons. They want separation, a separation that will ensure that Palestinians are denied access to the land of their immediate fathers and forefathers, while Israelis continue to traverse their secure bypass roads to settlements lying in the heart of the Palestinian territories.
The vision of two states does not meet any minimal ambition of peace, freedom and a dignified future for Palestinians. It jeopardizes our basic human and national rights of sovereignty. Except for municipal matters like collecting our own garbage, our nation will be totally dependent on the state of Israel. In return, we will be expected to collect Israel's garbage, wash Israel's dishes and offer cheap labor to our oppressors.
However, I oppose the two-state solution not only because it is impossible, but because it is immoral.
The Palestinians are a cosmopolitan nation. We are the descendants of civilizations that have lived in this land since the Stone Age. We have Canaanite, Semite, Aramaic, Arab, Turkish, African and European blood in our veins. Here we were born, and here our forefathers have lived. A common history, a common passion for our homeland and the same unstaunched wound unite us.
We are not xenophobic or exclusive. We are Muslims, Christians, indigenous Jews, Baha'is and Druze. Over the centuries our doors were open to foreigners. The Armenians fleeing genocide found shelter among Palestinians, Africans came as pilgrims and were entranced by the magic of Jerusalem. Early Jewish immigrants fleeing persecution were accepted within the Palestinian community, worked with Palestinians, lived in their towns, and intermarried with them. According to the Palestinian National Charter, the document that lays out our national principles, Jews who immigrated to Palestine before the 1948 Nakba are Palestinians.
Our rejection of the Zionist project is not based on hatred, but on the rejection of foreign occupation, the theft of our homeland and resources, and the crimes that have been committed in realizing the dream of an exclusively Jewish state.
I acknowledge that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is very complex. The emergence of two generations of Israelis born in the land occupied by their forefathers makes things infinitely more confused. It means that this conflict will not be solved until we recognize the presence and the humanity of the other, rectify the wounds of the past, acknowledge the wrong that has been done to Palestinians and then undo those wrongs as best we can.
My hope lies in a multi-national, multi-ethnic democratic state of historic Palestine for all its citizens. I do not care about the safety of Israelis any less than I care for the safety of my own people, nor am I suggesting that we jump into this process without preparation. We must start by demanding that Israelis remove their armed children from our doorsteps, with a United Nations force as a common buffer zone. We Palestinians everywhere need to heal and work with each other to elect new democratic representatives instead of the same tired faces. And then, as two equal nations, we need to set out upon the business of making right the wrongs. It is time for something new.
"You are asking us to commit mass suicide," one Israeli told me. No, I am calling for Israelis' moral and ethical liberation from the sin of occupation, for their freedom from pathological fear and the neurosis of security, and the restoration of their human rights as equal citizens in a free country.
This is not my fantasy--it is my enduring hope. The making right of colonization has been achieved in recent history. South Africa is a living example of the triumph of hope and reconciliation over oppression and prejudice.
When Palestinians live together as equals with the people of Israel, when not only Israeli security matters, but Palestinian security as well, and when both of us take the same bus to work, stand at the ministry of interior together, endure the same procedures at the airport and have equal wages for the same jobs, then the last shall be first in keeping the peace.
Samah Jabr is a writer, physician and activist.
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