January 23, 2012 Edition 3 Palestinian-Israeli Crossfire
How do we know if and when the two-state solution is no longer feasible?
Nothing to stop it from disappearing  - Ghassan Khatib
A lot of changes are introducing serious question marks about the prospects of two states.

A comprehensive solution is not feasible  - Yossi Alpher
Virtually everyone understands that Oslo has reached the end of the road, yet no one is doing anything about it.

The writing has always been on the wall  - Sam Bahour
The measures were many, each of them a warning signal that sounded over and over again.

The two-state solution will not disappear  - Shlomo Avineri
A single state is not a solution but a recipe for institutionalized civil war.

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Nothing to stop it from disappearing
 Ghassan Khatib
With the passing of time, discussion over the permanence of the two-state solution is increasing among Palestinians and, to a lesser extent, Israelis and others involved. Although the official line of both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority is that the two-state solution is the path of peace, a lot of changes are introducing serious question marks about its prospects.

The two most important areas of change that are provoking this debate are changes in the public opinion of both Palestinians and Israelis, and changes on the ground. A thorough analysis of trends in Israel over the last 15 years (most accurately, since the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin) shows, with some fluctuations, a clear drift towards radicalization and away from the peace process built on the two-state plan. One sees evidence of this in three things: shifts in the political composition of successive Israeli cabinets, similar changes in the composition of the Israeli Knesset, and in the results of surveys and public opinion polls on ideological issues related to the conflict.

That change was also quite visible in the last two important speeches of current Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. The first was delivered to the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2011, and the second delivered in the spring of last year to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. He presented his own political position, one based on historical and ideological considerations, rather than political, legal or even security references. Netanyahu, speaking from a new Israeli consensus, talked of illegal Israeli settlers living in the occupied West Bank as people living on land belonging to their ancestors.

As I have often argued, extreme Israeli positions and practices only reinforce similar attitudes on the Palestinian side. Palestinian society has also witnessed a process of radicalization that led to the election of Hamas in 2006 and its subsequent armed takeover of Gaza.

The ongoing dismal failure of the peace process, together with its abandonment (or at least ineffective handling) by the international community promises the continuity of both of these trends in public opinion. The direction we are headed in contradicts completely the two-state solution.

At the same time, illegal Israeli practices in the occupied territories, particularly the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem, have been stepped up in recent years. These are creating a practical reality that is not conducive to the creation of two independent states, but rather intertwines our economies, land use, resources and populations.

Joined together, public opinion and the reality on the ground are creating conditions that preclude the two-state possibility. And, there is no reason to believe that these will be reversed in the foreseeable future. That is leaving many analysts to conclude that, if the two-state solution is not already impossible, it is only a matter of time before it is a thing of the past.-Published 23/1/2012

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications and director of the Government Media Center. This article represents his personal views.

A comprehensive solution is not feasible
 Yossi Alpher
As an agreed outcome to the conflict, the two-state solution has not been a genuine option for very long. The Palestine Liberation Organization could conceivably be said to have accepted it back in the late 1980s, but only about a decade has passed since Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and President George W. Bush became the first Israeli and American leaders, respectively, to officially embrace it. Older solutions, such as one state and a variety of schemes involving Jordan, actually have much more "seniority".

So in terms of the number of years devoted to trying to make it work, the two-state solution is still young. Yet that does not mean it is necessarily still feasible. Between settlement spread on the one hand and, on the other, repeated Palestinian insistence on totally unacceptable formulae for the right of return and the holy places, growing numbers of Israelis, Arabs and others are already pronouncing the two-state solution unachievable. Moreover, unless the current Palestinian reconciliation talks surprise us by succeeding in reuniting the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, the best we might conceivably be looking at is, in effect, a three-state solution.

In purely philosophical terms, we might never be able to pronounce the two-state solution "not feasible": it just depends how high a price either side is persuaded, under severe duress, to pay. For Israelis, this would mean dealing with tens of thousands of displaced settlers and their supporters; for Palestinians, risking the fury of millions of disappointed refugees. In this sense, the one irreversible truth in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that, in the long term, nothing is irreversible.

Still, in practical terms, the real purpose of asking how and when we "know" that the two-state solution is no longer feasible should actually be to inquire as to when we are so disheartened over its prospects that we apply our energies to an alternative road to settling or at least alleviating the conflict? In other words, when is the two-state solution as we have come to describe it--the comprehensive end-of-conflict, end-of-claims agreement that resolves all outstanding differences as posited by the Oslo Declaration of Principles--so unlikely in the foreseeable future that we should be seriously discussing alternatives?

That time is now. In recent years, we have been moving away from a comprehensive two-state solution. Two serious efforts at the highest level have failed, in 2000 and 2008, the latter freezing the peace process as we know it. The Arab world is overwhelmed by revolution and the rise of political Islam. The PLO-Hamas split is still not resolved. Settlements are proliferating, while pressures against compromising or even seriously negotiating are high within both Fateh and the Netanyahu government. All this should be understood as a mandate to lay the Oslo model to rest and look for a new format for dealing with the conflict.

The year 2012, by the way, is a good time to be looking for alternatives. The Obama administration's decision not to sponsor any sort of politically risky process until after US presidential elections gives us a kind of respite, or pause, that should be exploited for rethinking Oslo and the comprehensive two-state solution.

The most obvious direction the rethinking process should adopt--taking PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' appeal to the international community for state recognition as a point of departure--is a partial, territorial solution whereby the United Nations recognizes a Palestinian state and sets the two sides the immediate task of negotiating borders, aspects of sovereignty and security, and two mutually-recognized capitals in Jerusalem. Resolving the territorial conflict on a state-to-state basis could go a long way toward stabilizing the situation, even if resolution of the stubborn "narrative" issues of holy places and the right of return may never be achieved.

Additional issues that might be reconsidered include "three states or two", i.e., the feasibility and advisability of reuniting Gaza/Hamas with the West Bank/Fateh; engaging the Hamas option of a long-term ceasefire or armistice; the possibility of large numbers of Jewish settlers remaining in a West Bank-based Palestinian state as a counter-balance to Israel's large Palestinian Arab population; and resolution of thorny territorial issues through long-term leasing rather than out-and-out transfer of sovereignty.

Discussing options like these is where we should be. Yet we--Israel, the Palestinians and the international community--are not seriously engaging in any sort of reevaluation process of the kind envisaged here. Virtually everyone seems to understand that Oslo has reached the end of the road, yet no one is doing anything about it. That, and not the abstract discussion of whether a two-state solution is still feasible, is the real problem.-Published 23/1/2012 ©

Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.

The writing has always been on the wall
 Sam Bahour
The human body is an amazing creation. It's not only the most complex system known to mankind, but it embodies within it signals that tell its owner that something has gone wrong. A similar signaling system exists in political bodies. Those tasked with reading the signals--be they individuals, physicians or politicians--can choose to consciously ignore the warning signs. The Middle East peace process between Palestinians and Israelis has been emitting SOS signals for decades, but only recently are those signals being received and analyzed for what they are transmitting--a clear and irreversible message that the entire paradigm of "two states for two peoples" has collapsed.

Like doctors who peddle medications instead of practicing medicine, many politicians are under the influence of their narrow political interests and prefer not to call situations by their name. After so many years of failure--political, legal, diplomatic and economic--those who are paid to diagnose and treat reality are being replaced with voices from all corners of the world, voices convincingly making the case that the entire premise undertaken by the Palestine Liberation Organization, starting as far back as 1974, is no longer feasible.

Some will say that the PLO was tricked by the West into a path that was never intended to succeed. Others may claim that the PLO had no option but to acquiesce to the pressures placed upon it to enter, more recently, the Oslo peace process, in hopes that the West (mainly the US) would then pull its weight in bringing Israel in line with international law and UN resolutions. Regardless of the analysis of the past, very few people on the ground who are intimately involved in the attempt to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli "conflict" would venture to spend any additional political credit on the notion that two independent states, Israel and Palestine, remain a way out of this man-made tragedy.

The measures were many, each of them a warning signal that sounded over and over again, but largely fell on deaf ears. The ignoring of a refugee population. A prolonged military occupation, unaccountable to the Fourth Geneva Convention. The launching of the illegal Israeli settlement project. The continued use of military force against Palestinians wherever they reside: Jordan, Lebanon, inside Israel, or the occupied territory. Assassinations and mass murder of Palestinians, from Lebanon to Tunis to every Palestinian city, in broad daylight for all to see. Seven hundred and fifty thousand Palestinians arrested and detained, many without charge and many tortured. A lopsided peace agreement (Oslo) that merely institutionalized the reality of military occupation. The election of Israeli prime ministers who, one after another, represented political programs that explicitly forbade the emergence of another state between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River. The list goes on and on. Each one of these signals emitted a deafening sound that was heard by all, and ignored by all who could change the course of events.

One of Israel's founding ministers of education and culture, Professor Ben-Zion Dinur, said it most sharply, according to the book "History of the Haganah": "In our country there is room only for the Jews. We shall say to the Arabs: Get out! If they don't agree, if they resist, we shall drive them out by force." With this theme as its explicit backdrop, it is no wonder that newly-established Israel had little chance of being a normal state among the community of nations. These words rang out long before the creation of the PLO and long before the unacceptable phenomenon of suicide bombings entered the scene.

Israel was founded on the infamous fallacy that it was built on a "land with no people, for a people with no land." Instead of acknowledging that this fallacy is a form of outright racism, Israel is legislating it into its laws. Since its inception, Israel has arrogantly refused to address the most crucial prerequisite of its establishment as a conventional state: accepting the Palestinians, those people that just happened to be living in that "empty" land that Israel was created on.

After over six decades of conflict and dispossession of the Palestinians, and after two decades of Palestinian political recognition of Israel on part of their lands, the Israeli people choose to sustain the conflict. They are bent not only on keeping their boot of occupation on the necks of Palestinians living under it, but on embarking on an accelerated path to disenfranchise, yet again, Palestinians who remained in Israel and assumed Israeli citizenship.

Today, Israel seems determined, more than ever, to forcefully prove the original premise of its statehood--an Israel with moveable borders and a Jewish-only population. Twelve Israeli prime ministers before Binyamin Netanyahu, six of them after the signing of Oslo, have failed at this nonsensical endeavor. He, too, will fail. If Israel cannot produce a leader to move the country from being a pariah to being a member of the Middle East, only Israel's Jewish population will be to blame.

This should not come as a surprise for Israelis who have studied their own history. Israel's founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, understood it well when he said, "Why should the Arabs make peace? If I were an Arab leader, I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country. Sure, God promised it to us, but what does that matter to them? There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: we came here and stole their country. Why should they accept that?" The fact of the matter is: Palestinians even accepted "that" and are still being rejected and punished.

It is clear that Israel has no plans to reach any form of lasting peace with Palestinians or concede to a two-state solution. Its spread of illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory has created new facts on the ground that make it impossible to form a contiguous Palestinian state, even on the 22 percent of historic Palestine that Palestinians have been reduced to and agreed upon.

In light of this continuing Israeli policy of outright aggression and negation of Palestinian rights, Israelis should prepare themselves for the next generation of Palestinians, a much more savvy generation interlinked with a global world and a region that values rights over an artificial border. Soon, if the current trajectory continues, Palestinians will tell Israelis: "You win! You get it all--the West Bank, Jerusalem, Gaza, the Jordan Valley, the settlements, all the water, and guess what? You get us too! Now, where do we sign up for our health care cards?"-Published 23/1/2012 ©

Sam Bahour is a Ramallah-based management consultant.

The two-state solution will not disappear
 Shlomo Avineri
As the English political theorist Lord Acton is frequently quoted as saying, "It is difficult to prophesy, especially about the future." Yet with meaningful Israeli-Palestinian negotiations currently stymied, it is legitimate to ask if the two-state solution may not become, at some point in the future, irrelevant. My answer, though, is that even as time passes without visible progress towards it, the two-state solution nevertheless may not disappear. It is the only game in town.

The reasons for this are complex. They are intertwined inextricably with the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and deeply etched into the political ideologies of both national movements and their respective publics. And the paradox is, that while the one-state solution can be said to be at the back of the mind of the Palestinian movement even at a time when its representatives have publicly supported a two-state solution, it is precisely this that makes most Israelis wary.

In other words, and put somewhat crudely, for the Palestinians one Palestine, undivided, can be seen in a most fundamental way as the ultimate goal, while for Israelis this is an undisguised recipe for the dismantling of Israel as a Jewish nation-state. Most Palestinians may object to this characterization and present it as an Israeli ploy, yet the fact is that the map of Palestine as an undivided entity is what appears on all their organizations' symbols, as well as in Palestinian school textbooks and propaganda leaflets.

This can be seen also as the reason for the vehement rejection by Palestinian spokesmen of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's demand that as part of negotiations between the two sides the Palestinians accept Israel as the Jewish nation-state. Even Israelis who object to Netanyahu's demands were rather rattled by the ferocity of the Palestinian refusal even to entertain the idea. This suggests to them that, at the end of the day, the Palestinian national movement is not ready to really accommodate itself to the existence of Israel as a legitimate expression of the Jewish right to national self-determination.

Equally, Palestinians' insistence that they will never, as President Mahmoud Abbas has stated, give up their claim to the right of return to Israel of 1948 refugees and their descendants, seems to signify the same ultimate goal, even if for tactical reasons the Palestinian movement is willing to accept a two-state solution.

At the back of all this is, of course, the Palestinian refusal in 1947-8 to accept the United Nations partition plan and their decision to go to war against it. While such perceptions in Israel of the Palestinians' ultimate aim make negotiations for a two-state solution difficult and are used--sometimes honestly and sometimes less so--by the Israeli right-wing as an alibi for opposing a two-state solution, they deeply influence Israelis' rejection of a one-state solution. When Palestinian spokesmen appear to threaten Israel that, absent a negotiated two-state solution, "the only alternative will be one state," many Israelis say, "You see, that is what they really want--the end of Israel."

Much of this may be an unjust and unkind Israeli interpretation of Palestinian positions. But practically and politically, it means an almost total Israeli refusal of a one-state solution. The Israeli left and center reject it for Zionist and democratic reasons, the Israeli right realizes that this would make the Jews a minority in what they consider a Jewish state. Hence both would prefer the uneasy status quo, difficult as it may seem.

There is, of course, a long list of other reasons that would make a one-state solution utterly unacceptable to both sides if looked at closely and seriously. What would the one state be called: Israel or Palestine? Just raising the question suggests how impossible such a solution would be. Would it revere Theodor Herzl or Mufti Hajj Amin al-Husseini as a founding father? Would it celebrate May 15 as Independence Day or Nakba Day? Would "Hatikva" or "Biladi, Biladi" be the national anthem--or perhaps, absurdly, both? Would it teach its children that Zionism is the Jewish national movement for self-determination or that it is colonial imperialism, like the French presence was in Algeria?

Dozens, if not hundreds, of such contested issues would make any serious attempt at cohabitation in one state impossible. Given that these issues have divided the two movements for a century, a single state is not a solution but a recipe for institutionalized civil war.

All this suggests that at the end of the day, the two-state solution will not, and cannot, disappear from the political agenda. Only it, and not a chimerical one-state solution, takes both national movements seriously, tries--despite all difficulties--to find a place in the sun for both, and allows Israeli Jews and Palestinians to feel at home, each in their respective homeland, under their own flag and with their national memories, histories and narratives.-Published 23/1/2012 ©

Shlomo Avineri, professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was director general of the Foreign Ministry in the first cabinet of Yitzhak Rabin.