The Middle East Quartet has released its long-awaited report and to no one’s surprise it is claiming that the two-state solution is “in danger”. It alleges that this “danger” comes from Palestinian terrorism and incitement, and Israeli settlement building and takeover of the West Bank’s area C. The report reiterates that “a negotiated two-state outcome is the only way to achieve an enduring peace that meets Israeli security needs and Palestinian aspirations for statehood and sovereignty, ends the occupation that began in 1967, and resolves all permanent status issues.” It expresses particular concern about:
- Continuing violence, terrorist attacks against civilians and incitement to violence which are exacerbating mistrust and are fundamentally incompatible with a peaceful resolution;
- The continuing policy of settlement construction and expansion, designation of land for exclusive Israeli use, and denial of Palestinian development is steadily eroding the viability of the two-state solution; and
- The illicit arms build-up and militant activity, continuing absence of Palestinian unity, and dire humanitarian situation in Gaza feed instability and ultimately impede efforts to achieve a negotiated solution.
We are told repeatedly that the two-state solution is “the only game in town” for solving the decades-long Palestinian injustice, both by the “international community” and the Palestinian Authority. However, what such a solution means to Israel is very different to what is understood by Palestinians. For the Palestinian leadership, a two-state solution means an independent Palestinian state on the pre-Six Day War 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital and minor land swaps. Israel does not accept this definition. Even when the two-state solution term is uttered by Israeli officials they are usually referring to two states for two people with an non-militarised Palestinian state recognising Israel as the “homeland of the Jewish people”. Any solution would also have to take Israel’s ever-expanding security demands into account and Israel would keep the “settlement blocs”, the definition of which is fluid.
This demonstrates that the two-state solution is far from being a concept the details of which are agreed upon, and that there are still many i’s to be dotted and t’s to be crossed if it is to become a reality; that it is far from just requiring some flexibility and some concessions from each side for it to be realised.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won the last general election on a platform which was clear: “There will be no Palestinian state on my watch.” While he attempted to retract this after his electoral victory, he still does not accept a Palestinian state “on the 1967 line”. More recently, as talk of the French initiative grew louder and reference to the Arab Peace Initiative was included, Netanyahu flatly rejected it, saying, “If they bring the proposal from 2002 and define it as ‘take it or leave it’ – we’ll choose to leave it.” He argued that “its negative elements include the demand that Israel retreat to the 1967 borders in the West Bank with territorial adjustments, and leave the Golan Heights, as well as the return of the Palestinian refugees.” The offer to normalise relations with all Arab and Muslim countries if Israel implements international law is unacceptable to the Israeli leader.
The Palestinian Authority, meanwhile, remains wedded to the two-state solution. You would have thought that Chief Palestinian Negotiator and PLO General Secretary Saeb Erekat — who has been involved in talks with the Israelis for over twenty years — would do the honourable thing and tell the world that the two-state solution is dead and then pursue a different political solution. He only has to look out of his Ramallah or Jericho office windows to see the illegal Israeli settlements that tower over Palestinian towns and villages, and the settler-only roads and other security measures that make a Palestinian state a pipe-dream.
His reasoning for refusing to make such an announcement is that he believes that the Israelis will not accept a one-state solution. However, as I have outlined above, nor do they accept a two-state solution. Erekat concludes that what Israel really wants is a single state with two systems and, therefore, Apartheid by any other name. I agree with his conclusion.
The Palestinians, though, must state clearly what they want; Israel does that all the time. The Palestinians want to remain in historic Palestine and those made refugees to return to their land. They want to be able to settle anywhere in their historic homeland and not to visit Jaffa only when Israel grants them a permit to be photographed and to reminisce. They want equality and to live in dignity. I also believe that they want to have their reasons for hating their occupier to end; at heart, the Palestinians are a peaceful people.
The Quartet’s report outlines some of its reasons why the two-state solution is still the only way to resolve the conflict. It recognises that facts on the ground in the form of Israel’s settlement expansion are making it difficult to realise. However, it does not define the tipping point when a report that it produces will acknowledge that the two-state solution is dead. In so doing it allows the status quo to continue, which only suits Israel. Israeli ministers and champions of the settlement project have learnt from the impunity that their state has enjoyed that the way to conquer historic Palestine in its entirety is through more settlement building and more oppression. The former reduces the possibility of a Palestinian state emerging and the latter will drive the Palestinians out of the remaining areas in which they are corralled.
The international community must define that tipping point. I suggest that if the number of illegal Jewish-Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem reaches one million then the die will be cast and the two-state solution will be dead and buried. Once that point is established in the collective mindset, everyone involved will either work to rescue the two-state solution before it is reached or, when the million mark is passed, the only game in town will be a different political solution. If that happens then it must be one that delivers justice to the Palestinian people, especially the refugees. I fear, though, that over the next few years we will continue to be sold the mirage that the two-state solution is the only deal on the table, and Israel will be allowed to continue to work towards what it really wants, which is historic Palestine emptied of its indigenous population.