On both sides of the green line and, indeed, wherever people think about solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a lot of old/new thinking is taking place. Old, because there is really nothing new under the sun when it comes to solutions for Israelis and Palestinians. But new, because after 15 years of concentrated and largely fruitless efforts to solve the conflict with a negotiated two-state solution, we now encounter more and more discussion of alternatives.
Essentially, the dismal current status and future prospects of the Israeli-Palestinian two-state peace process are encouraging discussion among some Palestinians of reverting to the one-state solution championed by the PLO in its early years and by Hamas. Meanwhile, among Israelis discouraged with the peace process, the Gaza-West Bank split is spurring consideration of solutions based on the existence of two Palestinian entities separated by Israel (in effect, a three-state solution) or of variations in which Israel and Jordan divide the West Bank and Israel and Egypt possibly deal jointly with the Gaza Strip.
Most of these ideas are patently unrealistic. Discussion of them often reflects despair, not pragmatic strategic thinking.
Beginning with three-state solutions, it is difficult to assess how deep and long-lasting the Gaza/West Bank, Hamas/Fateh split really is. Virtually all Palestinians insist that it has to end and that the two territories must eventually be rejoined, whether within a two-state solution or as part of a single bi-national state. But a historical review of the course of Palestinian dispersal since 1948, including the 1948-1967 period during which Gaza was ruled by Egypt and the West Bank by Jordan, can only conclude that yet another phase of division and fragmentation is a possibility. Here a lot depends on Hamas and militant Islam in general and the evolution of their approach toward the existence of Israel. With its current extremist ideology toward Israel, Hamas can perhaps be tolerated in Gaza but certainly not in the West Bank. This points to the possibility of Gaza emerging as a separate Palestinian entity within some sort of three-state or three-entity setup.
Israeli variations on a three-state solution, championed primarily by settler ideologues and others on the right wing, are patently unrealistic insofar as they call upon Egypt and Jordan to relieve or lighten Israel's Palestinian "burden" by annexing, administering or enlarging (into Sinai) Palestinian territories. Neither Cairo nor Amman has evinced the slightest readiness to comply. Nor does Washington appear inclined--based on the wishful thinking of some Israeli right wingers--to somehow compel them to do so.
But Israeli right-wing wishful thinking pales compared to that of Palestinians who appear to believe that if they advocate a one-state solution it could somehow become a reality. Put simply, the vast majority of Israeli Jews would not agree to live in a bi-national Israeli state. Hypothetically, if for some cataclysmic reason they could no longer live in a Jewish, democratic state in their historic homeland, they would prefer renewed dispersion and Diaspora to life in a bi-national Arab-Jewish (essentially Muslim-Jewish) state that by definition would not be Zionist and would almost certainly quickly relegate Jews to the status of a persecuted minority. Nor do Israelis intend to let that "cataclysmic reason" come to pass.
Precisely because Palestinians who proffer a one-state solution do not have a Jewish negotiating partner, the threat to somehow revert to this position (most recently voiced by PLO chief peace negotiator Ahmed Qurei) unless Israel is more forthcoming in two-state solution negotiations is totally counter-productive. Not only does it not soften the Israeli negotiating position--it generates indifference or even hostility. In traditional "stick and carrot" terms, the Palestinians making this threat are beating themselves with their own stick.
Perhaps most important for Israel and its supporters, failure of a two-state solution does not mean that the alternative is a one-state solution. Precisely because there is no such alternative, other options more readily suggest themselves, ranging from temporary conflict management to three states or entities. Nor does failure today mean that tomorrow we cannot try again to arrive at a two-state solution, which remains the best option for all.
True, there are a few Israeli Jews on the fringes of society who either advocate or would comply in a one-state solution. They include anti-Zionist leftists and ultra-orthodox as well as settlers who believe they can survive in a Jewish, non-democratic state in which Arabs are perpetual second-class citizens. I would not recommend to Palestinians that they rely on any of these fringe Jews as potential partners.- Published 18/8/2008 © bitterlemons.org
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.
With Palestinians facing greater and greater difficulties in their struggle to achieve an independent state in the territories occupied by Israel in the war of 1967, a serious debate has been sparked over the viability of the two-state solution.
The continuing Israeli changes to the reality of these territories--whether through the expansion of illegal Jewish settlements and related infrastructure including the wall, or the disintegration of these territories through a comprehensive system of checkpoints and other forms of barriers--and the stagnation of the political process have further shaken Palestinian faith that a two-state solution is the most viable and suitable.
The Israeli-imposed separation of the Gaza Strip from the West Bank--which was deepened after the Israeli redeployment from Gaza and further exacerbated by the subsequent confrontations between Fateh and Hamas that left Gaza under the control of one and the West Bank under the control of the other--have also raised further question marks about the possibility of a two-state solution.
In addition, Palestinians are nonplussed as to why the international community would allow this bold contradiction between the two-state strategy and vision, which seems to be the international consensus, and what's happening on the ground to develop. This includes both the separation and division between the West Bank and Gaza and the changes that are being made by Israel in the West Bank.
Judging by Israel's behavior, the best way to understand Israeli objectives, it is easy to conclude that Israel is interested in and working on a future for the Gaza Strip that is different from that of the West Bank. Ultimately, Israel appears happy to have separate and different leaderships in Gaza and the West Bank.
The Palestinian leadership and public moved from demanding a solution based on a single secular and democratic state for both Palestinians and Jews in all of historic Palestine to a two-state solution because of two factors. First, the reality created by Israel rendered the one-state idea a utopian dream. Second, efforts by constructive and friendly elements in the international community convinced Palestinians to adopt a strategy compatible with international legality, which recognizes Israel but considers its control over the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza as a belligerent and illegal military occupation.
In other words, both friends and enemies of the Palestinians, in the region and beyond, convinced the Palestinians that a two-state solution was a possibility that the international community would support. But the same pragmatic mentality that led to this historic change in direction of the Palestinian cause is now questioning the practical possibility of a two-state solution.
Yet, in spite of eloquent and articulate views and analyses by Palestinian intellectuals, the vast majority of the public, according to public opinion polls, and the majority of the political elite consider the idea of a bi-national state a dangerous alternative strategy. There are several reasons. First, a bi-national state strategy will ease the international pressure on Israel to end its illegal occupation and thus solve the main political, legal and ethical conundrum for Israel, i.e., that it is an occupying, oppressive and colonial state.
Second, the one-state approach will abort many achievements that Palestinians have already made in terms of building a state and its institutions and could bring them back to a situation where Israeli military officers not only control their movement as is the case now, but also control their school curricula, the hiring and firing of teachers and other basic aspects of authority that Palestinians now control and have controlled for the past ten years or so.
Third, calling for a bi-national state, a less likely and practical solution than that of two states, will also confuse the international community and international legality that are committed, if only in word, to ending the occupation.
Finally, there are several related dangers in calling for a bi-national state. One is that Israel will implement a practical arrangement for such a bi-national solution but only in the West Bank, which already comprises both Palestinians and Israeli settlers. Another is that Israel will seize upon this call only in East Jerusalem, contributing to the Israelization of the city and realizing its illegal annexation.
It should, however, be noted that many of the voices calling for a bi-national state seem to be using this approach mainly to warn against the failure of the two-state approach. This is unfortunate since it gives the impression that a bi-national approach is a tactical and PR exercise rather than a strategy.
In fact, the only alternative to the two-state solution is the continuation of confrontations between Israelis and Palestinians with all the negative consequences this will have on the regional level. There are only two options for Israelis and Palestinians: conflict or ending the occupation according to international law and allowing Palestinians to establish an independent state on all territories occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem.- Published 18/8/2008 © 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. He holds a PhD in Middle East politics from the University of Durham.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
What happened to the "vision" of a two-state solution?
by Yisrael Harel
A few years ago, at a dialogue meeting between Israelis and Palestinians, the Palestinians were asked what they thought of the idea voiced by Ariel Sharon that Jordan, with more than two-thirds of its population Palestinian, is in fact a Palestinian state. And if that is not today the case, then when Jordan becomes a constitutional monarchy or enjoys some other form of regime that expresses the will of the majority, it will indeed become Palestinian.
The Palestinians taking part in this conversation, without exception, condemned the very question. They replied angrily and aggressively: if you continue to talk about this issue, we Palestinians will end the meeting.
That dialogue was held at a time when the political bon ton, following Oslo, encouraged discussion of "two states for two peoples". Heaven on earth in the form of the "New Middle East" promised by Shimon Peres--despite the suicide bombings that had already commenced--was touted energetically at every real or virtual (media) podium. So loud were the drums announcing two states that the drummers, certainly on the Jewish side, ignored and compelled others to ignore any indication that the Palestinian side, from Yasser Arafat on down to the last Israeli Palestinian intellectual, didn't really intend to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and the national home of the Jewish people.
All the Palestinians did then was to pay lip service to the two-state idea in order to help Arafat get back on his feet. Anyone in need of proof that this was indeed Arafat's objective received it in the form of explosions in buses and malls, beginning shortly after the Palestinian leader entered Gaza along with some 40,000 of his fighters, all fully armed and equipped.
If Israel had real media and enjoyed political dialogue free of calumny and narrow personal and economic interests, this was the time when Israelis who innocently supported the idea of two states for two peoples should have opened their eyes and recognized that this concept in fact was never really accepted by an absolute majority of Palestinians. It was never accepted by their political leadership, certainly not by their religious leadership and not by their intellectuals--especially the Israeli Palestinians, who provided the latest proof with the "vision documents" they published in 2007-8 and by their unequivocal, vocal and successful opposition to Mahmoud Abbas' (Abu Mazen) original intention to recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people at the Annapolis conference.
Today, with little remaining of pretense, it is hard to find serious Arab counterparts for dialogue who continue to talk about two states. Of course they blame Israel for the change in their approach as they fall back on the one and only idea the Palestinians have every truly believed in: a single state for a single people--the Palestinian people.
Indeed, Palestinians never really abandoned the aspiration for a single, Arab state. During the first 35 years of Israel's existence most didn't believe it could be realized in the foreseeable future. But ever since Israel agreed to withdraw from Sinai and destroy its settlements there; since it lost its capacity to win on the battlefield, meaning since the 1982 Lebanon war; and in view of the growing polarization among Israelis, the decline in motivation to serve in the army and, as we witnessed only recently, the frightening price Israel is prepared to pay to retrieve the bodies of its soldiers--Palestinians have become filled with hope that Israel, divided and bereft of internal unity, just might at some point soon not be able to muster the strength to continue to struggle for its existence as the state of the Jewish people.
These Palestinian hopes are based on perfectly logical data. But data, as we have seen throughout human history, have a tendency to change. Thus it is very probable--and this is what I believe--that at the moment of truth the Jews will take themselves in hand and once again be what they were when they fought for and achieved their independence.
Recently, quite a few years after the meeting of intellectuals described above, two members of that forum, an Israeli and a Palestinian, met again privately. The angry and emotional Arab reaction to mention of "Jordan is Palestine" was mentioned. Why? asked the Israeli. His Arab counterpart replied: from an internal Arab standpoint this is the most secret wish of Palestinians. Its chances of reaching fruition are greater even than the possibility that you Israelis will give up. But to agree to discuss it even in a closed meeting is like admitting that you covet your neighbor's wife.
In other words, the Israeli mused, in your heart of hearts you are perhaps dreaming of no fewer than four Palestinian states: in Jordan, in the West Bank (the Abu Mazen state), in Gaza (a Hamas state) and in Israel itself--certainly among the Palestinian population concentrations in Israel.
That's a wild exaggeration, replied the Palestinian totally unconvincingly.- Published 18/8/2008 © bitterlemons.org
Yisrael Harel heads the Institute for Zionist Strategy in Jerusalem and writes a weekly political column in Haaretz. He is former head of the Yesha Council (Council of Jewish Settlements in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza District) and former editor of its monthly Nekuda.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
Time to change strategy
an interview with Eyad Sarraj
bitterlemons: As things stand, what are the chances of a two-state solution?
Sarraj: First we must understand the strategy of Zionist leaders and institutions. I think there is general agreement on the Zionist side not to allow for the creation of a sovereign, independent and contiguous Palestinian state. This is seen as too dangerous to Israel.
Once you recognize a sovereign state, this state could have alliances with enemies of Israel, and this is a risk Israel does not want to take. And since the Americans have decided that the question of Palestine is a domestic Israeli issue, Israel will allow partial or full autonomy, but not sovereignty.
bitterlemons: It's a no-state solution then?
Sarraj: This is the thinking. Israel, with the encroachment of its army and settlers on land that is supposed to form the basis of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, is in effect decreasing the practical likelihood of a Palestinian state emerging.
So what is left for us? Because of Palestinian divisions, we are left with Israel, a mini-state in Gaza under Hamas and a mini-state in the West Bank under Fateh. Both of these mini-states are managed by Israel, one way or another and with or without the agreement of Palestinian leaders.
This is now a serious possibility. The plan today is to work toward this kind of three-entity solution whereby Egypt and Jordan are re-introduced into the Gaza Strip and the West Bank respectively, even if security is managed, and will always be managed, solely by Israel.
bitterlemons: Are the Egyptians and Jordanians interested in such roles?
Sarraj: Both countries are in very weak positions. The Palestinian situation is an intensely emotional issue in both countries and both governments are struggling with the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. They are also under pressure from Washington, pressure the US is lubricating with money, to work out some arrangement with Israel.
Both countries rely on moral and political American support so they will find it hard to go against Washington's wishes. Hence they are trying to find a role for themselves that will not appear to contradict Palestinian and Arab aims but will at the same time play out the US and Israeli game, with the help of Palestinians if possible. This is why we now see both countries engage all Palestinians, Fateh and Hamas, to see what kind of arrangements might be acceptable.
bitterlemons: What about the Palestinians in all of this?
Sarraj: The Palestinians are the last to decide on the fate of Palestine. The reality is that Israel, the neighboring countries and the US decide this question. Because of their divisions and their failures in peace and war and because of the serious structural damage that has now been incurred, Palestinians are the last to be considered to decide on the question of Palestine. Furthermore, Palestinian leaders are not taken seriously by anyone. There is of course room for them at the table, as long as they are not too obstinate.
bitterlemons: So, Palestinian aspirations for independence are dead?
Sarraj: At this moment in time, Palestinian aspirations for a sovereign state in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza are non-achievable. But this will not last forever. Israel worships power, because Israelis are paranoid about security. Power, however, is for now and tomorrow.
Israel does not consider moral power important. Israel is a state that is built on brutal power, not moral power, and as such has no future. Jimmy Carter is a moral person. He, along with many outside observers, believes that Israel's security can only be guaranteed in the long term by the creation of a Palestinian state and the fulfillment of Palestinian rights. Israel, paranoid as it is, sees the words of Carter as the words of an enemy.
So what is happening is this: the West Bank, because of Israeli violations and the theft of Palestinian land, has seen the germs of a new form of Palestinian resistance, that started in Biliin, emerge. This could really galvanize a new non-violent Palestinian movement of resistance, helped by some Israelis and internationals, to campaign for a one-state solution.
Israel has realized the danger from the demographic situation and this is why it opted to withdraw from Gaza. This also explains the Israeli policy of separation in the West Bank. If Palestinians stop using violence in favor of non-violent tactics against the occupation and campaign for a one-state solution with the help of Israelis, Jews everywhere and internationals, we can start to paint Israel as an apartheid state. Today, the world sees only an Israel threatened by terrorists. We need to correct that image, but that can only be done through no-violent means. Palestinians have historically always used the gun. But this is the last weapon we can win with.- Published 18/8/2008 © bitterlemons.org
Eyad Sarraj is a political commentator and the chairman of the board of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program.
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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.