By Ramzy Baroud
The subject of a Palestinian state has been paramount long before Dec. 28, when US Secretary of State John Kerry took the podium at the Dean Acheson Auditorium in Washington DC to pontificate on the uncertain future of the two-state solution and the need to save Israel from itself.
In fact, unlike common belief, the push to establish a Palestinian and Jewish state side-by-side goes back years before the passing of UN Resolution 181 in November 1947. That infamous resolution called for the partitioning of Palestine into three entities: A Jewish state, a Palestinian state, and an international regime to govern Jerusalem.
A more thorough reading of history can pinpoint multiple references to the Palestinian (or Arab state) between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. The idea of two states is Western par excellence. No Palestinian party or leader had ever thought that partitioning the Holy Land was an option.
Then, such an idea seemed preposterous, partly because, as Ilan Pappe’s “Ethnic Cleaning of Palestine” shows, “almost all of the cultivated land in Palestine was held by the indigenous population (while) only 5.8 percent was in Jewish ownership in 1947.”
An earlier but equally important reference to a Palestinian state was made in the Peel Commission, a British commission of inquiry led by Lord Peel that was sent to Palestine to investigate the reasons behind the popular strike, uprising and later armed rebellion that began in 1936 and lasted for nearly three years.
There were two “underlying causes of the disturbances,” resolved the commission: Palestinian desire for independence, and the “hatred and fear of the establishment of the Jewish national home.” The latter was promised by the British government to the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland in 1917, which became known as the Balfour Declaration.
The Peel Commission recommended the partition of Palestine into a Jewish state and a Palestinian state, which would be incorporated into Transjordan, with enclaves reserved for the British Mandate government.
In the time between that recommendation 80 years ago, and Kerry’s warning that the two-state solution is “in serious jeopardy,” little has been done in terms of practical steps to establish a Palestinian state.
Worse, the US has used its veto power in the UN repeatedly to impede the establishment of a Palestinian state, as well as utilizing its political and economic might to intimidate others from recognizing (although symbolically) a Palestinian state. It has further played a key role in funding illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem — all of which rendered the existence of a Palestinian state virtually impossible.
The question now is: Why does the West continue to use the two-state solution as its political parameter for a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while at the same time ensuring that its own prescription for conflict-resolution never becomes a reality?
The answer partly lies in the fact that the two-state solution was never devised for implementation to begin with. Like the “peace process” and other pretenses, it aimed to promote among Palestinians and Arabs the idea that there is a goal worth striving for, despite being unattainable.
However, even that goal was itself conditioned on a set of demands that were unrealistic to begin with. Historically, Palestinians had to renounce violence (their armed resistance to Israel’s military occupation), consent to various UN resolutions (even if Israel still rejects those resolutions), accept Israel’s “right” to exist as a Jewish state, and so on.
That yet-to-be-established Palestinian state was also meant to be demilitarized, divided between the West Bank and Gaza, and excluding most of occupied East Jerusalem. Many new “creative” solutions were also offered to alleviate any Israeli fears that the non-existent Palestinian state, in case of its establishment, would pose a threat to Israel.
At times, discussions were afoot about a confederation between Palestine and Jordan, and at other times — as in the most recent proposal by the head of the Jewish Home Party, Israeli Minister Naftali Bennett — making Gaza a state of its own and annexing to Israel 60 percent of the West Bank.
When Israel’s allies — frustrated by the rise of the right wing in Israel and the obstinacy of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — insist that time is running out for a two-state solution, they express their worries in the form of tough love. Israel’s settlement activity is “increasingly cementing an irreversible one-state reality,” said Kerry in his major policy speech last month.
Such a reality would force Israel to either compromise on the Jewish identity of the state (as if having religious/ethnic identities for a modern democratic state is a common precondition), or having to contend with being an Apartheid state (as if such a reality does not exist anyway).
Kerry warned Israel that it will eventually be left with the option of placing Palestinians “under a permanent military occupation that deprives them of the most basic freedoms,” thus paving the ground for a “separate and unequal” scenario. Yet while warning that the possibility of a two-state solution is disintegrating, few bothered to try to understand the reality from a Palestinian perspective.
For Palestinians, the debate on Israel having to choose between being democratic and Jewish is ludicrous. For them, Israel’s democracy applies fully to its Jewish citizens and no one else, while Palestinians have subsisted for decades behind walls, fences, prisons and besieged enclaves such as the Gaza Strip.
And with two separate laws, rules and realities applying to two separate groups in the same land, Kerry’s “separate but unequal” Apartheid scenario took place the moment Israel was established in 1948.
Fed up by the illusions of their own failed leadership, according to a recent poll, two-thirds of Palestinians now agree that a two-state solution is not possible. That margin is growing as fast as the massive illegal settlement enterprise dotting the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem.
This is not an argument against the two-state solution, for it merely existed as a ruse to pacify Palestinians, buy time and demarcate the conflict with a mirage-like political horizon. If the US was indeed keen on a two-state solution, it would have fought vehemently to make it a reality decades ago. To say that the two-state solution is now dead is to subscribe to the illusion that it was once alive and possible.
That said, it behooves everyone to understand that coexistence in one democratic state is not a dark scenario that spells doom for the region. It is time to abandon unattainable illusions and focus all energies to foster coexistence based on equality and justice for all. There can be one state between the river and the sea, and that is a democratic state for all its people, regardless of their ethnicity or religious beliefs.