Tuesday,14 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1333, (23 February - 1 March 2017)
Tuesday,14 August, 2018
Issue 1333, (23 February - 1 March 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Plan B: The one-state solution

Amid Arab and Palestinian weakness, Israel is preparing to end the Palestinian cause as we know it

Although the fight for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not over yet, it seems that it is fading away. On the one hand, the current US administration is not enthusiastic about it, and EU foreign policy looks in disarray regarding the Middle East. On the other hand, the Arabs are incapable of doing anything positive and the Palestinian leadership is powerless, and don’t forget that it is divided between Gaza and Ramallah. Gathering more strength from the whole situation, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is moving swiftly forward to kill any opportunity for two states, one for the Israelis and one for the Palestinians, on the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

The only chance to establish a Palestinian state will come at Egypt’s expense, in Sinai. The rumoured proposal to enlarge the land of the Gaza Strip by adding to it 1,600 square kilometres to the south is a laughable idea that no one in Egypt will accept. Egypt should not shoulder the price of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It was clear in the latest reports from Israel that the Tel Aviv government and the Israeli right wing camp are adamant in their objection to allowing any other authority to practise sovereignty in the West Bank. In his recent visit to the US, the Israeli prime minister achieved nearly all his own political goals, securing American silence about the policy of settlement expansion, moving away from the policy of the two-state solution, obtaining support for Israeli annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights, promoting the idea of non-intervention by other parties in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and support for settling the Arab-Israeli dispute within a regional framework.

Israel feels powerful as never before. Why not, when its old fierce enemies in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon are falling apart or have disintegrated? Can you name just one Arab country that can even think of a war with Israel? The answer is none. Why then the leaders of the “Jewish State” should give up control of Palestinian and Syrian occupied land? Instead, they are busy building new realities on the ground (in the West Bank including Jerusalem) in order to make the two- state solution look unrealistic and absurd.

The Oslo Accords have gone with the wind and the Palestinian Authority’s fate is now at the whim of Israeli politics. As for the Palestinians themselves, the future looks bleak and uncertain. But if you ask a Palestinian whether he or she would accept living side by side with the Israelis in one state, you will have very mixed and confused answers. Equally, Israelis are also divided and confused.

Results of a recent public opinion poll may tell the story.

A “Palestinian-Israeli Pulse” joint poll was conducted by the Tami Steinmetz Centre for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University and the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah. The poll sought to ascertain the current level of support for the idea of a one-state solution in which “Palestinians and Jews will be citizens of the same state and enjoy equal rights”. Support for the idea was high among Israeli Arabs, standing at 56 per cent. But only 36 per cent of Palestinians and 19 per cent of Israeli Jews said they support it. Support among Israeli Jews was higher in the West Bank as residents’ approval rate was 26 per cent. When Israeli Jews were asked if they were for or against the annexation of the West Bank without granting the Palestinians full citizen rights, two thirds said they were against and only 31 per cent said they supported it. My conclusion here is that the idea of two people living together side by side in one state is there and may grow stronger as the best way forward for both the Israelis and the Palestinians.

In my view, as the Israeli government will continue its expansionist settlement policy and help tens of thousands of new settlers to pour into the West Bank, the two-state solution will appear impractical and out of living reality. Arabs will do nothing for the Palestinians. They fought for them three times (1948, 1967 and 1973) but they are now in no position to fight again, neither now nor in the near future. The EU, though, is very enthusiastic about Palestinian rights and for the establishment of a Palestinian state; it lacks the strength and the tools to pressure Israel to accept either, however. The US has been, for a long time, against any outside pressure on Israel to accept any solution that is not negotiated and agreed directly by the Israelis and the Palestinians themselves.

So, forget the UN, the EU, the Arab League and Russia. Who else will fight for the Palestinians to establish an independent state? Perhaps history. But remember, history doesn’t stand by the weak, disparate and retreating side; history only stands by the strong, capable, innovative, vigilant and fast-moving powers.

As I said, the fight for the two-state solution is not over yet, but its chances today are much less than they were yesterday, and will become even lesser tomorrow. Politicians should always think of viable and practical alternatives. The dilemma is that our Arab politicians keep repeating the same demands and seemingly enjoy getting the same negative replies.

The one-state solution was never considered worth even thinking of by Arab nationalists. When the partition of Palestine between Jews and Palestinians in the late 1940s was a hot issue only Arab communists called for one democratic state for all in Palestine that was seen by others as a betrayal. The two-state solution received the same kind of reaction. After the 1967 war some Arab thinkers (like Ahmed Bahaaeddin in 1968) tried to promote the idea of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but his proposal received loud angry attacks, especially by Arab nationalists and the Palestinian leadership. At the beginning of the Egyptian-Israeli negotiations after the October 1973 War, the idea of a two-state solution was also present, but rejected by both the Syrian and Palestinian leadership. Through the Oslo Accords and beyond, the idea of a Palestinian state was vague and hazy. Now with massive Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank, including Jerusalem and Zone C of Oslo, the two-state solution looks as if it has been left behind, way back in history.    

If I want to describe the situation now regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I would say that Israel has succeeded in transforming it into an “Arab” problem rather than an Israeli responsibility. It is now trying to push for the idea that Arab countries should bear the responsibility of creating a solution for the Palestinians, and that’s one of the reasons explaining why Netanyahu now talks about a solution within a “regional framework”.

Meanwhile, Israel has its own alternative to the two-state solution: “autonomy to the Palestinians living in the West Bank under Israeli sovereignty”. In fact, this alternative is nothing new. It was studied and developed and then promoted carefully by the government of Yitzhak Shamir upon the principle, “Autonomy for Arab residents, sovereignty for Israel”. The idea of autonomy is now back on the table, in order to guard against the rise of the opposite idea of a “one-state solution”, and we will see a lot of promotion of the idea of “Palestinian autonomy” in the next few weeks and months.

The Arab answer to that should be very clear and should push Israel’s back to the wall. Israel is occupying Palestinian (and other Arab) land, and this occupation should end one way or another. Israel is responsible for the Palestinian people’s plight and it should give back the occupied land. If it can’t deliver, then let Israel face the whole world and pay the price of occupying Palestine and denying its people their basic rights.

Someone, somewhere, in power in the Arab world should have the courage and come forward to call for an “emergency summit” for Arab leaders (or the leftovers of them) to decide on next steps with the Palestinians, who feel left alone and helpless. If nothing is done, this generation may see the end of the Palestinian cause as we know it, and the way we grew up with it.

Meanwhile, in Europe and in the US they consider Israel the “only democracy in the Middle East”. Well, let the government of Israel stop discriminating against Palestinians; let the government of Israel grant Palestinians their equal rights as full citizens; let the government of Israel show the world that Israel is a true and real democracy, not a state for Jews only based on discrimination against all others.

Let the world say if discrimination against people of other faiths or religions is an act of democracy. Let the world judge the real Israel. Let an ocean of changes pass over Israel and let real peace spring out and blossom in the land of peace.

The writer is former senior political affairs officer at the UNDPA.

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