Friday,22 September, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1333, (23 February - 1 March 2017)
Friday,22 September, 2017
Issue 1333, (23 February - 1 March 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Departing from the two-state solution

Should the Palestinians worry about Trump’s dismissal of the foundation of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process

Participants run past the controversial Israeli barrier, or wall, in Bethlehem (photo: Reuters)
Participants run past the controversial Israeli barrier, or wall, in Bethlehem (photo: Reuters)

In their first meeting since the US presidential elections, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump stood on the podium of their joint presser to rewrite the future of the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Trump was asked if he was ready to give up the notion of two-state solution and to hear “different ideas” from Netanyahu regarding annexation of parts of the West Bank and unrestricted settlement construction.

Trump didn’t commit to the decades old policy of all previous US administrations which supported the creation of a state for Palestinians next to Israel, which is referred to as the two-state solution. Instead, he provided a vague answer that also alluded to “one state”.

“I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like,” he said. “I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one. I thought for a while the two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two. But honestly, if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best.”

The Palestinian Authority (PA), the body created in 1994 through the Oslo Accords to govern Gaza and parts of the Palestinian West Bank was not so happy.  

“The Israeli government’s insistence on destroying the option of the two-state solution whilst pursuing construction of illegal [Israeli] settlements [on occupied Palestinian territory] will lead to more radicalisation and instability,” it said in a statement issued on the same day.

While ignoring Trump’s non-committal statement on the same issue, the PA said it was ready to work positively with the US president “to create peace”.

Similar reactions from partners and stakeholders of the 24-year-old peace process continued to pour in since. The Arab League said that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires a two-state solution, entailing the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the basis of 1967 borders with its capital in East Jerusalem. On Monday, the Egyptian presidency said it was committed to the two-state solution which reflects Cairo’s vision for a just and sustainable solution to the Palestinian question.

In separate statements, France and Germany said the new American policy of abandoning the two-state solution is confusing and risks fuelling conflict in the region.

Trump who vowed during his presidential campaign to move the American embassy from the Israeli capital Tel Aviv to occupied Jerusalem said he “would love to see it happen” and was looking at it “very, very strongly” when asked about it in last week’s joint presser.

The right-wing Israeli premier seized the opportunity to reiterate “prerequisites” for peace with the Palestinians, namely demanding that Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state and that the latter retains “overriding security control” over the West Bank.

The Israeli Knesset passed a bill earlier this month that retroactively legalises thousands of illegal Israeli settler homes built on privately-owned Palestinian land in the West Bank, which the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) described as legalising land theft.

The bill is a nod to growing domestic support for right-wing Israeli parties, many of which demand annexation of the entire occupied West Bank, the bulk of which was supposed to form the aspired to Palestinian state defined by 1967 borders, or the Green Line, and where some areas are controlled by the PA.

Throughout the two and a half decades of negotiations, illegal settlements continued to expand and flourish at an alarming speed and volume across Palestinian territory, making a viable Palestinian state impossible, according to critics.

Proponents of the peace process say recent developments and the apparent new take by the Trump administration virtually kills any hope for the creation of a Palestinian state. Despite this reality, advocates of the two-state solution say they remain committed to the Oslo process nonetheless.

In an interview with The Cairo Review, a journal issued by the American University in Cairo, member of the Palestinian Legislative Council Hanan Ashrawi expressed concern over Trump’s foreign policy signals.

“We are seriously worried because populism, extremism, the language of ideology, racism, all these things that are emerging in the United States, have been in power since Netanyahu took office in Israel,” she said. The discourse in Israel— political and social and moral—has shifted to the extreme right, Ashrawi explained, “and so it resonates with the American administration, particularly given that there are people who are settlers and who support settlements in the White House now.”

But Ashrawi, who is shocked by Trump’s stand, admitted that his predecessor Barack Obama, who maintained his commitment to the two-state solution, “gave the Israeli government more than any other American president”.

While Palestinian officials like Ashrawi are not ready to announce the death of the peace process, they’re becoming a minority within the stakeholders of Oslo.  Even the Obama administration expressed despair at the two-state solution when in his last speech as US secretary of state, John Kerry declared that “the status quo is leading towards one state.”

But while shocking supporters of the two-state solution, the Trump administration’s new policy has vindicated critics of the Oslo process who viewed it as an unjust solution to the Palestinian question since its onset.

The Palestinian resistance group Islamic Jihad — which never recognised Oslo — said that the Trump-Netanyahu presser was a joint message to both “the official Arab order” and the PA that the political settlement known as the two-state solution “had reached its end.” The group called on the PA to “withdraw” its recognition of Israel and to exit the peace process.

In the Guardian, Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said professor of Arab studies in Columbia University proclaimed that “The Middle East ‘peace process’ was a myth. Donald Trump ended it,” in an article published Saturday.

The final interment of the already moribund “two-state solution”, he wrote, would force all concerned to face what is obvious to any honest observer.

“The two-state solution is a misnomer,” said Salman Abu Sitta, a prominent Palestinian researcher on the right of return and member of the Palestinian National Congress — the frozen legislative body of the PLO. “It means the creation of a Palestinian state only because Israel is already recognised,” he said in a telephone interview.

It’s also a “Zionist project because it aims at reducing Palestine as we know it to one fifth [of the land].” The two-state solution, said Abu Sitta, wants to put 13 million Palestinians in only one fifth of Palestine, while 80 per cent of Palestine goes for five million Jews.

“This means no right of return for Palestinians and possible expulsion of existing 1.5 Palestinians who live in Israel, because they are foreigners.”

Netanyahu’s talk of annexing the occupied West Bank shows that he wants more 100 per cent of Palestine, said Abu Sitta.

To Zionists and right wing Israelis, “one state” is equivalent to a pure Jewish state.

“This vision of the one-state solution is one with no Palestinians in it, where they are to be dumped [from the West Bank] to Jordan and [from Gaza] to Egypt,” he said.

Palestinians like Abu Sitta who oppose the two-state solution support an entirely different one-state solution whose prerequisite is the end of Zionism in all its forms.

“The two-state solution is about racial gerrymandering to maintain Israel as a Jewish state. And its supporters say that openly,” said Ali Abunimah, an American-Palestinian co-founder of the Electronic Intifada. “There’s no reason why Palestinians should be concerned about maintaining a Jewish majority; they should be concerned about their rights and living in a system that affords people equal rights to everyone and creates a livable future for everyone.”

Eighteen years ago, leading Palestinian literary critic Edward Said published a piece in The New York Times calling for the “The One-State Solution.”

Oslo was based on the principle of separation between Jews and others, he wrote in 1999. On the other hand,  then PA chairman Yasser Arafat and supporters were turned into “enforcers of Israeli security, while Palestinians were made to endure the humiliation of dreadful and noncontiguous ''homelands'' that make up about 10 percent of the West Bank and 60 percent of Gaza, he added.

“I see no other way than to begin now to speak about sharing the land that has thrust us together, sharing it in a truly democratic way, with equal rights for each citizen.There can be no reconciliation unless both peoples, two communities of suffering, resolve that their existence is a secular fact, and that it has to be dealt with as such.”

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