Posts Tagged ‘two-state solution’

Middle East talks: too late for a two-state solution?

May 10, 2010

Asiaone.com, May 10, 2010

AFP

JERUSALEM (AFP) – As negotiators begin indirect talks with the ultimate aim of creating a Palestinian state next to Israel, voices on both sides are warning that the opportunity for a two-state solution has already slipped away, or at best is fading fast.

“Definitely the fight for a two-state solution is obsolete,” says Meron Benvenisti, a former deputy mayor of Jerusalem and veteran observer of Palestinian-Israeli relations.

Continues >>

Mearsheimer: Israel’s fated bleak future as an apartheid state

May 10, 2010

By John J. Mearsheimer, Chicago Tribune, May 9, 2010

President Barack Obama has finally coaxed Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. He and most Americans hope that the talks will lead to the creation of a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank. Regrettably, that is not going to happen. Instead, those territories are almost certain to be incorporated into a “Greater Israel,” which will then be an apartheid state bearing a marked resemblance to white-ruled South Africa.

Continues >>

Re-imagining Palestine

July 30, 2009

Self determination, Ethical De-colonization and Equality[1]

By Omar Barghouti | ZNet, July 29, 2009

Omar Barghouti’s ZSpace Page

[Contribution to the Reimagining Society Project hosted by ZCommunications]

INTRODUCTION

With Yassir Arafat’s departure, the doubling of the population of Jewish-Israeli colonial settlers in the occupied Palestinian territory, the latest Israeli slow genocide in Gaza and the fast disintegration of the last vestiges of Israeli “democracy,” the two-state “solution” for the Palestinian-Israeli colonial conflict is finally dead. Good riddance! This was never a moral or practical solution to start with, as its main objective has always been to win official Palestinian legitimization of Israel’s colonial and apartheid existence on top of most of the area of historic Palestine. It is high time to move on to the most just, morally sound and sustainable solution: the secular, democratic unitary state.

Continues >>

The Two-state Solution, Israeli-style

July 10, 2009

Charity, checkpoints and client rulers

By Jonathan Cook in Ramallah | Information Clearing House, July 9, 2009

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, has been much criticised in Israel, as well as abroad, for failing to present his own diplomatic initiative on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to forestall US intervention.

Mr Netanyahu may have huffed and puffed before giving voice to the phrase “two states for two peoples” at Sunday’s cabinet meeting, but the contours of just such a Palestinian state — or states — have been emerging undisturbed for some time.

In fact, Mr Netanyahu appears every bit as committed as his predecessors to creating the facts of an Israeli-imposed two-state solution, one he and others in Israel’s leadership doubtless hope will eventually be adopted by the White House as the “pragmatic” — if far from ideal — option.

Continued >>

What Kind of Two-State Solution?

June 15, 2009
Agence Global, June 15, 2009
by Immanuel Wallerstein,   Commentary No. 259, J

Now that President Obama has put his weight so openly and publicly behind the concept of a two-state “solution” for the Israel-Palestine controversy/struggle, such a “solution” may well be achieved in the coming years. The reason is simple. Stated abstractly, such a solution has overwhelming support in world political opinion. Polls show a majority of Jewish Israelis favor it, as do a majority of Jews elsewhere in the world. Support among Arab leaders is strong and wide. Even Hamas indicates it is willing to accept the concept of two states on the basis of an indefinite “truce” in the struggle. Some “truces” in the modern world have lasted four centuries. And more recently, there has been “truces” on the Korean peninsula and in Kashmir for more than a half-century. Some “truces” seem pretty permanent.

What seems to be left out of the discussion these days is what does the expression “two states” mean? Quite diverse definitions exist. We should remember that the last real negotiations, those between Yasir Arafat and Ehud Barak in 2000, foundered at the last minute at Taba over diverse definitions.

What are the issues in these contrary definitions? There are at least six different issues which the mere slogan of “two states” hides. The first issue is the definition of sovereignty. The Palestinians of course think that sovereign means sovereign – a state with the same powers as any other sovereign state. Even those Israeli political leaders who have accepted the terminology of two states have been thinking of a limited version of sovereignty. For example, what kind of military apparatus would such the Palestinian state have? Would it control completely overflight permissions? Would it have unlimited control of its borders?

The second issue is of course the borders of such a state. Both the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Hamas feel that accepting the 1967 borders is already an enormous concession on their part. They certainly do not expect to obtain anything less. But such borders of course do not include the post-1967 Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories, nor east Jerusalem. Tiny adjustments in these borders might be acceptable. But tiny means truly tiny.

The third issue is  internal democracy  in Israel. Will non-Jewish Israelis continue to have fewer rights than Jewish Israelis? This is a central and very little discussed question.

The fourth issue is whether the two states will be defined as secular states or religious states. Will the Palestinian state be a Muslim state? Will Israel continue to be a Jewish state?

The fifth issue is the so-called right of return. Israel was founded on the unlimited right of return of any Jew who wishes to come to Israel. The Arabs who fled from Israel (or were forced out) demand a right of return. This has been the knottiest issue in the entire historic debate. It is a question of both demography and land. The Palestinians might accept a merely symbolic gesture on this question, if all other issues were resolved in ways they considered appropriate.

Finally, of course, there is the question of what would happen with the existing Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories. It is conceivable that the Palestinians might say that some of them could remain where they are. But it seems hardly likely that the settlers would agree to stay in a Palestinian state, or would willingly accept evacuation to Israel.

Now what has Obama done? He has taken a strong position on two questions the present ultra-right Israeli government refuses to accept: no further expansion of any kind of the existing settlements and a commitment to a two-state solution. This is unquestionably positive and courageous in the context of U.S. internal politics.

However, it risks being dangerous in terms of any real solution. For consider the following possibility. Under severe twisting of the arm of Israeli Prime Minister Netanhayu by Obama, Netanyahu concedes both points, and reshuffles his cabinet in the light of this shift in position. Will he then not turn around and say to Obama that now the Palestinians must make comparable concessions? But he would not really be talking about “controlling violence” by the Palestinian Authority – the usual Israeli governmental mantra. He will mean concessions on all the issues I have listed above – on none of which any Palestinian leadership can today make any significant further concession.

Obama’s courageous gestures will then turn out to be a mode of distraction from the real underlying issues.

Obama’s Historic Speech – A Post-Mortem

June 6, 2009
The Palestine Chronicle, June 6, 2009
Surely he had to have some hopeful surprise up his sleeve. Wrong. Nothing. (NYT)
By John V. Whitbeck

President Barack Obama’s much anticipated speech in Cairo was truly astounding. After all the months of lead-up and hype, few could have imagined that this speech would contain nothing of substance. Surely Obama would feel the need to announce some new initiative on at least one of the major matters of concern to the Muslim world. Perhaps a decision to develop a fully fleshed-out plan for a two-state solution, unilaterally or with the Quartet and/or the Organization of the Islamic Conference (King Abdallah of Jordan’s “57 Muslim countries” willing to make peace with Israel), dealing with all the difficult issues, and to present it to Israelis and Palestinians as the last best chance for peace based on partition and the acceptance of Israel by the Muslim world. Or perhaps an international conference involving all concerned regional parties to seek solutions to the interlinked problems involving Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and/or Iran.

Surely he had to have some hopeful surprise up his sleeve. Wrong. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

There were, of course, many eloquent mood-music paragraphs and a smattering of quotes from the Holy Quran (as well as the Bible and the Talmud). Obama obviously believes that America’s unchanged objectives with respect to the Muslim world are more likely to be pursued successfully by being polite and complimentary than by being rude and intentionally insulting. But the mood-music paragraphs dealt with atmospherics or the past. When it came to the present and the future and to concrete matters of American objectives and policies, there was nothing new. Nothing hopeful. Nothing.

He certainly offered nothing new or hopeful to the Afghans and Pakistanis, to whom he implicitly promised perpetual war, saying (in a verbal and intellectual formulation uncharacteristically childish for him) that American troops will keep fighting in their countries so long as there are “violent extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can” — which there are guaranteed to be so long as the Americans keep fighting in their countries.

He certainly offered nothing new or hopeful to the Iranians, again adopting the views of the Israeli, rather than the American, intelligence agencies on the issue of whether Iran has a current nuclear weapons program and menacing that “when it comes to nuclear weapons, we have reached a decisive point”.

He certainly offered nothing new or hopeful to the Iraqis, opining that they were “better off” as a result of America’s invasion of their country.

Most certainly and emphatically, he offered nothing new or hopeful to the Palestinians, promising to pursue a two-state solution “with all the patience that the task requires” — i.e., with no sense of urgency (unlike his pursuit of Iran) and without any firm deadline, as would be essential for there to be even a miniscule hope of success. This commitment to infinite patience constitutes an effective promise to pass the problem on, in an even more intractable and hopeless condition, to his successor.

Gaza? It rated one mention: “The continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel’s security.” Israel’s security? Nothing about the holiday-season massacre of over 1300 Gazans? Nothing about the crippling Israeli blockade and siege? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Jerusalem? Obama expressed the hope that the city could become “a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together”. Mingle? In the context of Obama’s repeated references to two states, one might have expected a vision of the city as the shared capital of those two states living together in peace and reconciliation. No. No sharing. That would have contradicted his pledge in his speech to AIPAC’s National Conference last summer. Just a right to mingle, so long as Christians and Muslims did so “peacefully”, without raising awkward questions about any rights in or to Israel’s eternal and undivided capital.

And then, of course, Obama had to say this: “To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, and to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements and recognize Israel’s right to exist” — unbalanced, even in a speech ostensibly intended to reach out to the Muslim world, by any hint that, to be worthy of interaction with civilized people, Israel must renounce violence, recognize past agreements and recognize Palestine’s right to exist.

This tired, morally bankrupt American mantra essentially argues that only the rich, the strong, the oppressors and the enforcers of injustice (notably the Americans and the Israelis) have the right to use violence, while the poor, the weak, the oppressed and the victims of injustice must renounce violence, submit to their fate and accept whatever crumbs their betters may magnanimously deign suitable to let fall from their table — a principle dear to the hearts and minds of those who are happy with the status quo but not one likely to win hearts and minds among those who are not or, indeed, anyone who believes that justice should be pursued and injustice resisted.

As if that were not enough, Obama also felt the need to declare that America’s bonds with Israel are “unbreakable” — a statement one would expect in a speech to AIPAC or on the American campaign trail but one which one would not normally have thought essential to include in this particular speech before this particular audience. At least it is a statement consistent with one of Obama’s Quranic citations — “Speak always the truth”. It constitutes a proclamation (or admission) that America is not and will never be a truly independent nation and that this is just fine with Barack Obama.

If Israelis were looking for assurance that any public “pressure” from Obama to improve their behavior would be purely rhetorical and could be ignored with impunity, here was that assurance.

Nevertheless, one intriguing paragraph in the speech is worth considering: “Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America’s founding. The same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia.”

Comparing the position of today’s Palestinians to that of black slaves in America or native South Africans under that country’s apartheid regime can only be constructive. However, Obama has not thought through the context or his conclusion. As he rightly notes, those oppressed peoples and victims of injustice whom he cites were seeking “full and equal rights”, not the partition of their countries.

If the goal of an oppressed people is to convince a determined and powerful settler-colonial movement which wishes to seize their land, settle it and keep it (eventually emptying it of them and their fellow natives) that it should cease, desist and leave, nonviolent forms of resistance are suicidal. If, however, the goal were to be to obtain the full rights of citizenship in a democratic, nonracist state (as was the case in the American civil rights movement and the South African anti-apartheid movement), then nonviolence would be the only viable approach. Violence would be totally inappropriate and counterproductive. The morally impeccable approach would also be the tactically effective approach. The high road would be the only road.

Nonviolence is clearly morally preferable to violence. Democracy and equal rights are clearly morally preferable to apartheid and partition. The better goal and the better tactic are a perfect match, the only match that truly offers hope. If and when the current Palestinian leaderships, or the Palestinian people under a new and better leadership, draw the only rational conclusion from Barack Obama’s Cairo speech — that he offers them neither change nor hope and that they must rely exclusively on themselves in the pursuit of justice — they should courageously press their own “reset” button and unite to pursue democracy and equal rights by nonviolent means.

– John V. Whitbeck, an international lawyer who has advised the Palestinian negotiating team in negotiations with Israel, is author of “The World According to Whitbeck”. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

America’s Violent Extremism

June 6, 2009


By Paul Craig Roberts | Information Clearing House, Jume 6, 2009

What are are we to make of Obama’s speech at Cairo University in Egypt?

“I’ve come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”

Cairo is the capital of Egypt, an American puppet state whose ruler suppresses the aspirations of Egyptian Muslims and cooperates with Israel in the blockade of Gaza.

In contrast to the Islamic University of Al-Azhar, Cairo University was founded as a civil university. Obama’s Cairo University audience was secular.

Nevertheless, Obama said startling words that many Muslims found hopeful. He said that colonialism and the Cold War had denied rights and opportunities to Muslims and resulted in Muslim countries being treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations. The resulting blowback from “violent extremists” bred fear and mistrust between the Western and Muslim worlds.

Obama spoke of the Koran, his middle name, and his family connections to Islam.

Obama praised Islam’s contributions to civilization.

Obama declared his “responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.”

Obama acknowledged “the responsibility we have to one another as human beings.”

Obama acknowledged Iran’s “right to access peaceful nuclear power.”

Obama declared that “no system of government can or should be imposed by one nation on any other.”

Obama’s most explosive words pertained to Israel and Palestine: “Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine’s. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.”

Obama declared that “the only resolution [to the conflict] is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security. That is in Israel’s interest, Palestine’s interest, America’s interest, and the world’s interest. That is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with all the patience that the task requires.” For Obama’s commitment to be fulfilled, Israel would have to give back the stolen West Bank lands, dismantle the wall, accept the right to return, and release 1.5 million Palestinians from the Gaza Ghetto. As this seems an unlikely collection of events, the nature of the “two-state solution” endorsed by Obama remains to be seen.

After the euphoric attention to idealistic rhetoric dies down, Obama will be criticized for extravagant words that create unrealizable expectations. But were the extravagant words other than a premier act of schmoozing Muslims designed to quiet the Muslim Brotherhood in our Egyptian puppet state and to get Muslims to accept US aggression in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan?

Obama decries regime change, but continues to practice it, invoking women’s rights to gain support from secularized Arabs. He admits that Iraq was a war of choice but claims that al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and 9/11 make Afghanistan a war of necessity.

Obama said that “the events of 9/11” and al-Qaeda’s responsibility, not America’s desire for military bases and hegemony, are the reasons America’s commitment to combating violent extremism in Afghanistan will not weaken. Will Muslims notice that Obama’s case for America’s violent extremism in Afghanistan and now Pakistan is hypocritical?

Al-Qaeda, Obama says, “chose to ruthlessly murder” nearly 3,000 people on 9/11 “and even now states their determination to kill on a massive scale.” These deaths are a mere drop in the buckets of blood that America’s invasions have brought to the Muslim world. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of the Muslims America has slaughtered are civilians, just as are the unarmed Palestinians slaughtered by the American-equipped Israeli military.

Against al-Qaeda, whose “actions are irreconcilable with the rights of human beings,” Obama invokes the Koran’s prohibition against killing an innocent. Does Obama not realize that the stricture applies to the US and its “coalition of forty-six countries” in spades?

America’s wars are all wars of choice. The more than one million dead Iraqis are not al-Qaeda. Neither are Iraq’s four million refugees. Yet, Obama says Iraqis are better off now, with their country in ruins and a fifth of their population lost, because they are rid of Saddam Hussein, a secular ruler.

No one has a good tally of the dead and refugees America has produced in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, declared Obama, “The situation in Afghanistan demonstrates America’s goals and our need to work together.”

In his first 100 days, Obama managed to create two million Pakistani refugees. It took Israel 60 years to create 3.5 million Palestinian refugees.

What Obama has really done is his speech is to accept responsibility for the neoconservative agenda of extending Western hegemony by eliminating “Muslim extremists,” that is, Muslims who want to rule themselves in keeping with Islam, not in keeping with some secularized, Westernized faux Islam.

Muslim extremists are the creation of decades of Western colonization and secularization that has created an elite, which is Muslim in name only, to rule over religious people and to suppress Islamic mores. All experts know this, and most of them hail it as bringing progress and development to the Muslim world.

Obama said that “human progress cannot be denied,” but “there need not be contradiction between development and tradition.” However, the West defines development and education. These terms mean what they mean in the West. Muslim extremists understand that these terms mean the extermination of Islam.

In typical American fashion, Obama offered Muslims money, “technological development,” and “centers of scientific excellence.”

All the Muslims have to do is to cooperate with America and be peaceful, and America will “respect the dignity of all human beings.”

Robert Fisk: Words that could heal wounds of centuries

June 5, 2009

President Obama reaches out to the Islamic world in a landmark speech

Robert Fisk | The Independent/UK, June 5, 2009

President Obama's speach reached out to the Islamic world
AFP/Getty

President Obama’s speach reached out to the Islamic world

Preacher, historian, economist, moralist, schoolteacher, critic, warrior, imam, emperor. Sometimes you even forgot Barack Obama was the President of the United States of America.

Will his lecture to a carefully chosen audience at Cairo University “re-imagine the world” and heal the wounds of centuries between Muslims and Christians? Will it resolve the Arab-Israeli tragedy after more than 60 years? If words could do the job, perhaps…

It was a clever speech we heard from Obama yesterday, as gentle and as ruthless as any audience could wish for – and we were all his audience. He praised Islam. He loved Islam. He admired Islam. He loved Christianity. And he admired America. Did we know that there were seven million Muslims in America, that there were mosques in every state of the Union, that Morocco was the first nation to recognise the United States and that our duty is to fight against stereotypes of Muslims just as Muslims must fight against stereotypes of America?

Related articles

But much of the truth was there, albeit softened to avoid hurting feelings in Israel. To deny the facts of the Jewish Holocaust was “baseless, ignorant and hateful”, he said, a remark obviously aimed at Iran. And Israel deserved security and “Palestinians must abandon violence…”

The United States demanded a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He told the Israelis there had to be a total end to their colonisation in the West Bank. “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.”

Continued >>

Hillary Clinton reprises “peace process” fraud

March 3, 2009
Bill Van Auken | WSWS, March 3, 2009
In her  first trip to the Middle East as President Barack Obama’s secretary of state, Hillary Clinton insisted that the new US administration is determined to press for a “two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Decades of US and Israeli policies, however, have made it abundantly clear that the two-state solution will neither resolve the democratic and social aspirations of the Palestinian people nor secure an end to the ceaseless militarism of the Israeli state, which in the end poses a mortal threat to Jewish working people in Israel itself.

Clinton made her pitch for the revival of the decades-old and deeply discredited “peace process” in the context of an international donors’ conference called in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to raise money for the rebuilding of the devastated Gaza Strip.

At the end of the 23-day Israeli onslaught against Gaza, over 1,300 Palestinians had been killed, many thousands more wounded and half a million driven from their homes. It remains a humanitarian catastrophe, with tens of thousands still homeless, sleeping in tents in the cold, inadequate food supplies and the threat of disease posed by the destruction of water and sewage infrastructure. Meanwhile, Israel continues to exercise a tight blockade at Gaza crossings, preventing access to essential supplies.

In her public statements, Clinton managed, incredibly, to make no mention of this destruction wrought by the Israeli military, referring only once to an abstract “crisis in Gaza.” At the same time, however, she repeatedly condemned rocket attacks from Gaza, demanding that they stop. Needless to say, the American secretary of state made no such demand upon Israel to halt its continuing military actions against Gaza.

On the eve of Clinton’s Middle East trip, which is taking her to Jerusalem and Ramallah as well, Washington announced that it is boycotting a United Nations-sponsored conference against racism. It refused to participate because a draft document for the conference described Israel’s policy towards Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank as a “violation of international human rights, a crime against humanity and a contemporary form of apartheid.”

Washington’s problem is that, while posturing as the champion of peace, it has been-and under Obama remains-an indispensible partner in these crimes. The weapons used to slaughter men, women and children in Gaza were made in the USA.

The amount of money that the US pledged at Sharm el-Sheikh for reconstruction in Gaza-$300 million-is a pittance compared to the money lavished on Israel for the arms used to carry out the destruction in the first place. Since 2002 Washington has given the Israeli state $21 billion in military aid, while signing a 10-year agreement last year to provide it $30 billion.

The Obama administration will continue this aid. As Clinton’s performance in Egypt made clear, the Washington-orchestrated “peace process” will consist, as in the past, of US negotiators pressuring the Palestinians to bow to Israel’s demands.

As Clinton put it in Sharm el-Sheikh, this process demands that the Palestinians “break the cycle of rejection and resistance”; in other words, that they acquiesce and submit.

This modus operandi of US Middle East diplomacy has persisted over the course of more than a decade and a half under Democratic and Republican administrations alike, from Yassir Arafat’s appearance in the White House Rose Garden with Ms. Clinton’s husband and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1993, to subsequent conferences at Wye River in 1998, Camp David in 2000 and Annapolis in 2007.

It has produced a situation in which the so-called “two-state solution” is today manifestly unviable.

The Palestinian state advocated by the Clinton administration and subsequently by that of George W. Bush, has taken the form of a grotesque farce in the form of the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas, which has become synonymous with corruption and impotence. Its mandate is restricted to scattered Palestinian towns in the West Bank, cut off from each other by Israeli settlements and militarized zones. It is cut off entirely from the Gaza Strip, the Israeli-blockaded territory governed by the Islamist Hamas movement.

US policy towards the Palestinians has essentially been an attempt to build up Abbas’s regime and its security forces as a surrogate force for American and Israeli interests in the region and to use it to suppress Hamas. This was reiterated at Monday’s donors’ conference in which Clinton and other US officials insisted on iron-clad guarantees that not a cent of US funding would go to the Hamas administration in Gaza, a stipulation that will obviously impede reconstruction.

In a report prepared in conjunction with Clinton’s trip, the Israeli Peace Now movement revealed that the Israeli government has drawn up plans to build at least 70,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank, potentially doubling the settler population in the occupied territory. This population is already four times what it was a decade ago, and its continuous expansion-together with accompanying Israeli military forces and security road networks-has taken up fully 40 percent of the land on the West Bank.

Any Palestinian state would be physically and economically completely dependent on Israel, and through it the United States. The Palestinian Authority, built up by the United States, would be tasked with policing the the Palestinian population and suppressing popular opposition.

The policy being promoted by Clinton is in fundamental continuity with that pursued by the Bush administration for the last eight years. Its objective is not “peace” in the Middle East, but rather the promotion of American hegemony over the region and its vast oil reserves.

A genuine settlement of the 60-year-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be found neither under the auspices of US imperialism nor through the division of the territory into religious and ethnic-based statelets. It requires the unification of Arab and Jewish working people on a secular, socialist and internationalist perspective in a common struggle against Zionism, imperialism and the ruling elites of the Arab countries for a socialist federation of the Middle East.

What do we do if the “two-state” solution collapses?

February 11, 2009

Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy

Tue, 02/10/2009 – 4:50pm

Lots of smart people have been focusing on the Israeli elections and trying to make sense of their immediate implications for the peace process. I can’t improve on the analyses provided by Glenn Greenwald, Yossi Alpher, Bernard Avishai, or Uri Avnery, who explain why there is little reason to be optimistic and many reasons to be worried.

I want to focus on a different issue, which is likely to be more important in the long run.

It’s this: What do we do if a “two-state solution” becomes impossible?

During the past 10 years, the “two-state solution” has been the mantra of most moderates involved in the seemingly intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni say they want it, and so does Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The 2007 Arab League peace plan envisions two states living side by side, and George W. Bush and Condi Rice repeatedly said that a two-state solution was their goal too (although they did precious little to achieve it). Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton all say they are going to push hard for it now. I might add that the two-state solution is also my preferred option.

Interestingly, this moderate consensus in favor of two states is itself a fairly new development. The 1993 Oslo Accords do not talk explicitly about a Palestinian state, and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who signed the agreement, never endorsed the idea of a Palestinian state in public. And when First Lady Hillary Clinton spoke about the need for a Palestinian state back in 1998, she was roundly criticized, and the White House promptly distanced itself from her remarks. In fact, Bill Clinton didn’t endorse the idea of a Palestinian state until his last month in office. The mainstream “consensus” behind this solution is in fact a relatively recent creation.

Today, invoking the “two-state” mantra allows moderates to sound reasonable and true to the ideals of democracy and self-determination; but it doesn’t force them to actually do anything to bring that goal about. Indeed, defending the two-state solution has become a recipe for inaction, a fig leaf that leaders can utter at press conferences while ignoring the expanding settlements and road networks on the West Bank that are rendering it impossible. Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is a perfect illustration: He has lately become an eloquent voice in favor of two states, warning of the perils that Israel will face if the two-state option is not adopted. Yet his own government continued to expand the settlements and undermine Palestinian moderates, thereby putting the solution Olmert supposedly favors further away than ever, and maybe even making it unworkable.

There are two trends at play that threaten to undermine the two-state option. The first is the continued expansion of Israel settlements in the land that is supposed to be reserved for the Palestinians. There are now about 290,000 settlers living in the West Bank. There are another 185,000 settlers in East Jerusalem. Most of the settlers are subsidized directly or indirectly by the Israeli government. It is increasingly hard to imagine Israel evicting nearly half a million people (about 7 percent of its population) from their homes. Although in theory one can imagine a peace deal that keeps most of the settlers within Israel’s final borders (with the new Palestinian state receiving land of equal value as compensation), at some point the settlers’ efforts to “create facts” will make it practically impossible to establish a viable Palestinian state.

The second trend is the growing extremism on both sides. Time is running out on a two-state solution, and its main opponents — the Likud Party and its allies in Israel, and Hamas among the Palestinians — are becoming more popular. The rising popularity of Avigdor Lieberman’s overtly racist Yisrael Beiteinu party is ample evidence of this trend. And it’s not as though Kadima or Labor have been pushing hard to bring it about. According to Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times:

The result is that the next Israeli government, left to its own devices, is likely to opt for the status quo with the Palestinians – continued occupation of the West Bank, desultory peace talks, steadily expanding settlements and military force in response to Palestinian rockets or bombs. The long-term pursuit of a two-state solution will be brushed aside, with the argument that the Palestinians are too divided and dangerous to be negotiating partners.”

One does not need to look far down the road to see the point where a two-state solution will no longer be a practical possibility. What will the United States do then? What will American policy be when it makes no sense to talk about a two-state solution, because Israel effectively controls all of what we used to call Mandate Palestine? What vision will President Obama and Secretary Clinton have for the Palestinians and for Israel when they can no longer invoke the two-state mantra?

There are only three alternative options at that point. First, Israel could drive most or all of the 2.5 million Palestinians out of the West Bank by force, thereby preserving “greater Israel” as a Jewish state through an overt act of ethnic cleansing. The Palestinians would surely resist, and it would be a crime against humanity, conducted in full view of a horrified world. No American government could support such a step, and no true friend of Israel could endorse that solution.

Second, Israel could retain control of the West Bank but allow the Palestinians limited autonomy in a set of disconnected enclaves, while it controlled access in and out, their water supplies, and the airspace above them. This appears to have been Ariel Sharon’s strategy before he was incapacitated, and Bibi Netanyahu’s proposal for “economic peace” without a Palestinian state seems to envision a similar outcome. In short, the Palestinians would not get a viable state of their own and would not enjoy full political rights. This is the solution that many people — including Prime Minister Olmert — compare to the apartheid regime in South Africa. It is hard to imagine the United States supporting this outcome over the long term, and Olmert has said as much. Denying the Palestinians’ their own national aspirations is also not going to end the conflict.

Which brings me to the third option. The Israeli government could maintain its physical control over “greater Israel” and grant the Palestinians full democratic rights within this territory. This option has been proposed by a handful of Israeli Jews and a growing number of Palestinians. But there are formidable objections to this outcome: It would mean abandoning the Zionist dream of an independent Jewish state, and binational states of this sort do not have an encouraging track record, especially when the two parties have waged a bitter conflict across several generations. This is why I prefer the two-state alternative.

But if a two-state option is no longer feasible, it seems likely that the United States would come to favor this third choice. After all, supporting option 2 — an apartheid state — is contrary to the core American values of freedom and democracy and would make the United States look especially hypocritical whenever it tried to present itself as a model for the rest of the world. Openly endorsing apartheid would also demolish any hope we might have of improving our image in the Arab and Islamic world. Lord knows I have plenty of respect for the Israel lobby’s ability to shape U.S. foreign policy, but even AIPAC and the other heavyweight institutions in the lobby would have great difficulty maintaining the “special relationship” if Israel was an apartheid state. By contrast, option 3 — a binational state that provided full democratic rights for citizens of all ethnic and religious backgrounds — is easy to reconcile with America’s own “melting pot” traditions and liberal political values. American politicians would find it a hard option to argue against.

Bottom line: If the two-state solution dies, as seems increasingly likely, the United States is going to face a very awkward set of choices. That’s one reason why Obama and his team — as well as Israel’s friends in the United States — should move beyond paying lip-service to the idea of creating a Palestinian state and actually do something about it. But it’s hard to be optimistic that they will.

And while I’m at it, here’s one more heretical thought. Shouldn’t someone in the U.S. government start thinking about what our policy should be in the event that the two-state solution collapses? Starting to contemplate this possibility is risky, of course, because it might undermine our efforts to create two states if it became known that we were beginning to plan for an alternative future. But the fact is that we may face that future before too much longer. If so, then it might be a good idea if somebody began thinking about how to deal with it now, so that we don’t have to invent a new approach on the fly.


%d bloggers like this: