By Sam Bahour
As the Israeli-Palestinian conflict faces hunger strikes and the threat of renewed conflict, the question being tirelessly reiterated is whether a two-state solution is beyond us. The answer is “Yes” and “No.” But counting the number of states required for bringing about a final status solution is entirely misguided.
It is past time to take a fresh approach to resolving the conflict. Instead we should focus on two clear milestones. First, there should be an end to Israel’s 45-year military occupation of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Then, and only then, can Palestinians be expected to negotiate in good faith toward the second milestone, which is a negotiated final status agreement that would end the conflict and launch a process of historic reconciliation. Ending the occupation—or the bulk of it—can be done immediately; resolving the conflict may take decades.
The status quo, which involves holding Palestinian emancipation hostage to an unachievable, all-encompassing final status agreement, is paramount to a war crime. After two decades of failed bilateral negotiations under international auspices, no one should expect Palestinians to continue playing the game by Israeli rules.
Continued bilateral negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis will result in more wasted time and, sadly, more loss of life and hope on both sides. Palestinians can only be expected to negotiate in good faith once the boot of Israeli military occupation is removed from their necks and should not be asked to negotiate an end to the occupation imposed upon them, but rather a political settlement with Israel post-occupation. Otherwise, Palestinian freedom (not to mention movement, access, economy, natural resources, airspace, water, etc.) is merely a card Israel will use to affect a final status agreement. The prolonged military occupation is a state of affairs that has bypassed even the definition of occupation, which by law is temporary and an extension of war. Is anyone convinced that after 45 years and the installing of 500,000 Jewish settlers in the occupied territory that the current state of occupation is “temporary?”
One fact accepted by all parties involved—Israelis, Palestinians and the United States—is that if affairs remain on their current track, the default result will be a single state, comprising of Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza Strip. This will not be a single state for all its citizens, but rather a harsh Apartheid state, in which one part of the nation, the majority, is ruled by the minority. Even the current Israeli Defense Minister and former Israeli Prime Minister have used the “A” word to explain what Israel will face if things remain on their current course.
Palestinians could accelerate the default single state option by unilaterally redefining their notion of self-determination and calling for civil rights in their ancestral homeland, instead of maintaining their current demand for national sovereignty in merely 22% of their original homeland—in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Many observers view Palestinians and Israelis sharing all of historic Palestine as a doomsday scenario. This knee-jerk reaction may prevail, especially given that very little serious thought has been invested in what a non-Apartheid one-state—a state respecting equal rights for all its citizens—would look like.
The more fashionable outcome revolves around two states, Israel on 78% of historic Palestine, and Palestine on 22%. This two-state solution was the expected outcome of the infamous, and now failed (multiple times), Oslo peace process. A contributing factor to this failure could be that the definition of a two-state solution, itself, is an ever moving target.
The two states being entertained today, for example, are a far cry from the two states that were defined, in great detail, in UN Resolution 181 (known as the Partition Plan), a non-binding General Assembly resolution. In that 1947 plan, Israel was envisioned to be established on 56% of British-mandated Palestine. Instead, by acts of armed aggression, Israel assumed 100% of the land, some gained in 1948, some by annexation in 1980, and the remaining parts by military occupation in 1967.
Today there is a single source of authority between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River: the State of Israel, despite the fact that there exists a banana republic entity called the Palestinian Authority, which, by using the word “Authority” in its name, gives a false impression that it actually has sovereign control over anything.
So, given this reality, can two states be realized? Yes. A two-state solution can be imposed if the U.S. makes the decision to have it so. Place at my disposal the U.S. military and economic weight, along with NATO forces, and I’ll bring two states to reality by the end of the month. That said, this is a seriously flawed and unjust solution and its sustainability is questionable, at best.
But feasibility aside, the U.S. does not seem anywhere near such a decision, especially given that the U.S. political system has been hijacked by a powerful pro-Israel lobby and blinded by very short-term bipartisan political interests. Israel and Palestine are supposedly a U.S. foreign affairs issue, but the fact is that Israel has become an awkwardly domestic issue that muddles in internal U.S. politics and misguides U.S. strategic interests in the region since its inception.
A glimmer of hope may be found in the so-called Arab Spring movement across the Middle East. Past U.S. allies and dictators are falling a dime a dozen, and one can imagine the day when the U.S. will need to do more than pay lip service to peace in the Middle East. When that day comes, the low hanging fruit will be to bring its strategic ally, Israel, in line with international law and the will of the community of nations, and allow for the creation of a Palestinian state. But if the Palestinians redefine their self-determination based on civil, not national, rights before the U.S. awakes from its slumber, it may be too late for two states.
– Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American business consultant based in Al-Bireh/Ramallah, Palestine. He is co-editor of HOMELAND: Oral Histories of Palestine and Palestinians and blogs at www.epalestine.com. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.