Palestinians play a wild card

By Mark LeVine | Asia Times, Sep 5, 2008

Lost in the international uproar over Russia’s Olympic Games-eve invasion and occupation of Georgia and now the political and meteorological storms sweeping across the United States is a seismic shift in the dynamics of another conflict, one which offers a similarly vexing challenge to the core policy goals of the United States, Europe and many Middle Eastern governments to that posed by a newly belligerent Russia.

Largely unreported in the American and Western media, on August 10, two days after the start of both the Russian invasion and the Olympics, Palestinian lead negotiator Ahmed Qurie declared that if the peace process did not advance towards a final settlement soon, Palestinians would stop pursuing a two-state solution and demand the establishment of a bi-national state with Israel.

After the Annapolis peace conference held last November in the United States, Israel and the Palestinians agreed to form two negotiation teams to reach an agreement on major permanent status issues before the end of this year. Hopes are fading for any agreement within this timeframe, especially on statehood, which makes Qurie’s comments all the more pertinent.

Qurie, better known as Abu Alaa, explained, “The Palestinian leadership has been working on establishing a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders … If Israel continues to oppose making this a reality, then the Palestinian demand for the Palestinian people and its leadership [would be] one state, a bi-national state.”

In effect, pressure would be put on Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas to halt all negotiations and demand that Israel annex the Palestinian territories with all their residents. Indeed, Abbas has hinted he might dissolve the PA and demand a bi-national state if progress is not made soon.

According to the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, a forum has begun activities in the Occupied Territories and the Palestinian diaspora aimed at dismantling the PA and the return of responsibility for the territories to Israel. A petition in this regard was published this week in the London-based, Arabic-language al-Hayat daily newspaper.

To date, Israel’s leadership has refused to get excited by the Palestinian threat of a bi-national state. “It’s all a tactic,” said a senor government official was quoted in the media as saying this week. “I would not bet on it in a casino.”

All the same, the issue represents a sea-change in Palestinian attitudes towards the peace process. Even at its lowest ebb, former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat threatened merely to declare a state within the West Bank and Gaza.

Today the mere possibility of a bi-national solution so frightens Israel’s leaders that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert equated it with apartheid, warning that if the two-state process failed, Israel would “face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, and as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished”.

The reason Israel would be “finished” is clear: given the current state of relations between Jews and Palestinians it is difficult to envision Jews maintaining control over the territory, holy places, military, economy and immigration of Israel/Palestine in a bi-national state, especially after the demographic balance shifts in favor of Palestinians, as many experts believe it is close to doing.

In such a situation, Israel as a Jewish state would either “vanish from the pages of time”, as Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has infamously advocated, or an all-out civil war would erupt that would likely result in the exile of the vast majority of Palestinians from both Israel and the Occupied Territories.

Despite these apocalyptic possibilities, the peace process today stands close to the bi-national abyss. The more Palestinians feel they have nothing left to lose, the more likely it becomes that they will press for “one person, one vote”, returning in essence if not rhetoric to the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s pre-1988 advocacy of a “secular democratic state” in all of pre-1948 Palestine.

In reality, this turn of events should not surprise anyone. Already a generation ago, Israeli geographer Meron Benvenisti argued in his 1987 West Bank Data Base Project that by the mid-1980s, the Occupied Territories had become so integrated into Israel that it was no longer possible to separate them. By the time Palestinians and Israelis were ready to negotiate a “divorce” in the early 1990s it was too late to do so.

Continued . . .

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