Conflict in Palestine: a tale of two states

Photo by Nigel Parry

Many important voices have come out to express fear that the “two-state solution” for the Palestinian-Israeli dispute is fast fading. The consequences, they warn, are horrifying, not only for the Palestinians, for whom statehood is a national aspiration, but also for Israelis. While the circumstances cited as reasons for the undermining of the two state option vary with their origin, there seems agreement as to the frightening nature of the consequences. They limit the options of both the Palestinians and the Israelis to only two. One is the transfer (ethnic cleansing) of the Palestinian population by Israel, which means another nakba, or catastrophe.The other is to grant the occupied Palestinians equal citizenship in a single binational state - a demographic catastrophe for Israel. The two principal originators of the concern over the possible abandoning of the two-state solution, the Palestinian Authority (PA), and UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen, have both agreed and indeed warned of the awful choices the region would be left with should the factors distancing the two-state option be allowed to exacerbate the damage.

The sounding the alarm by Larsen in his Oct. 17 article in Ha’aretz, to which I will be returning later, was not much of a surprise.The real surprise was that the PA has recently conveyed to the Bush administration that it would consider abandoning its quest for the two-state solution, demanding instead equal citizenship for occupied Palestinians in a single binational state if Israel continued to reduce the size of the land earmarked for the intended state by building more settlements, and if the international community maintained its silence on the Israeli colonial expansion and the creation of “facts on the ground.” According to a report by Marc Berelman (The Forward, Oct. 25, 2002), the PA earlier this month handed a letter to top American officials expressing concern at the escalation of settlement activity, a grave reality forcing it to reconsider the two-state option. The 10-page letter, accompanied by five detailed maps showing the spread of the settlements, was delivered on Oct. 7 to Secretary of State Collin Powell and his aide David Satterfield, by PA Finance Minister Salem Fayad. The package, according to the same source, was received by Condoleezza Rice the second day.The same report reveals that Ahmad Qurei, the Palestinian speaker, sent a similar letter to the White House a week later reaffirming the same fears, and warning that “Israel’s ultimate goal is to permit a Palestinian ‘state’ which would be in effect the Middle Eastern equivalent of a Native American Indian Reservation.”

The only American response to all this, we are told by the report, is that both “Powell and Rice were surprised.” Although this demarche comes much later than it should have - as the Palestinian Authority has let precious years be wasted in worthless negotiations while the Israeli expansion was eating the Arab land, under the disguise of “peace making” - it remains appropriate. It is also timely to expose a reality which has so far been hidden under deep layers of confusion and political anarchy.The creation of an independent, sovereign Palestinian state (unlike a “viable” provisional one with no defined borders) as part of a rational settlement also seems very much in line with the long-term interests of Israel. It is the only way to save Israel from either committing ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians, as we have witnessed recently in the small village of Al-Yanun; or becoming an apartheid state if it includes the 3 million occupied Palestinians, but as second class citizens; or losing its Jewish character if the Arabs who would become majority were granted equal citizenship with the Jews in Israel. It is time to acknowledge that the promise of a Palestinian state is not a “reward” for the Palestinians for which they should pay a high price. The truth is that it is their right, and it is the Israeli side which benefits from its realization.

This is why Palestinians abandoning the two-state concept sounds more like a threat than a welcome promise to an Israel which has always shunned the idea. Larsen also attributes his despair over the two-state solution to the expansion of settlements on Arab lands. But then he paints a confusing picture, adding other factors which he delivered in two twin-item packages.The first package referred to a deteriorating security situation fueled by vicious terror, and an unprecedented humanitarian Palestinian crisis.

The second included two other factors: the destruction of the Palestinian Authority and the settlements. It is hard to understand how such an expert and supposedly comprehensive and subtle analysis fails to recognize one other major factor, and the source of all the evils Larsen renounced: the occupation. Is not the occupation entirely and solely responsible for all the violence? Is it not responsible for the unprecedented Palestinian humanitarian crisis? Has it not been systematically destroying the PA infrastructure and building settlements as part of a colonialist plan that targets the entire land of Palestine? More confusing is the sampling of the views in the region into constructionists and destructionists, an equation which tends to split the responsibility evenly between the victim and the aggressor. This assumes that the Palestinian and the Israeli destructionists confront the constructionists on both sides, and because according to Larsen they control the political scene, they dictate their belligerent agenda.There is nothing more distant from the truth.There is nothing more unfair either when equating those who exercise their legitimate right to free themselves from occupation, even when we reject some of their methods, with the settlers whose entire behavior is aggressive, expansionist, colonialist, immoral and contrary to international law.

It is true though that on the Palestinian side one can see a clear difference between a PA that has proven its commitment to oppose and fight any form of violence, and some organizations that insist on continuing the struggle until the occupation ends. But this also is a direct outcome of the occupation, and when the Palestinians decided to resist,after years of failed negotiations, they did it to express frustration and despair at the failure of the peace promise rather than as a destructionist anti-peace ideology. The Palestinian “violence” that started by throwing stones at the invading Israeli tanks and house-demolishing bulldozers became more vicious, but only after Israel’s disproportionate reaction. Violence is the outcome, not the cause of the prevailing political mess. On the Israeli side the scene is just the opposite, with the existence of a formal and practical alliance between the destructionists - led by the Sharon government - the labor “doves,” the coalition partners in the same government, and the settler community which is receiving all that it needs of political, military and financial backing from the government and the occupation army - not only for the purposes of implementing their expansionist plans, but for attacking and scaring civilian unarmed Palestinians and olive pickers as well.

Sharon has never refrained from declaring his intent never to allow a settlement with the Palestinians to be concluded, to destroy the Oslo Accords and to continue with the destruction of the PA. Did he not, years ago, urge Israelis to occupy as much as they could of the Palestinian hills so that nothing would be left to return under any peace terms? If the PA has been unable to force its will on the factions still attacking Israeli targets, it is partly because the PA security apparatus has been destroyed and partly because the Israeli provocations, incursions, restrictions and assassinations continue. In Israel, on the other hand,Akita Elder, writing in Ha’aretz last week, revealed that the “constructive destruction option” as reviewed in a briefing two months ago in Tel Aviv was presented by senior Israeli military officer Major General Giora Eiland.Although the option was not officially adopted, according to Eldar, its main elements - including the destruction of the PA and the reoccupation of the entire West Bank and Gaza - seem to be in progress. It is not the two-state option that has been overtaken by events as much as it is the entire peace process.

It is astounding, though, that we had to wait until the full extent of the settlement expansion physically unfolds, and to turn a blind eye, before realizing its dangerous consequences. What is needed now is not a cosmetic treatment or superficial attention to the symptoms.The removal of some “illegal outposts” or the freezing of new settlements will not cause any meaningful change. Until those who mourn the two-state solution muster some courage and call for the removal of all settlements, and for the occupation to go first, there will be no peace and no security for anyone in the region. No “road map” is likely to lead to anywhere if that anywhere remains unidentified.

Hasan Abu Nimah is a former ambassador and permanent representative of Jordan to the United Nations.