Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia recently threatened to abandon the quest for an independent Palestinian state in favour of one state giving equal rights to Palestinians and Israeli Jews. Qureia’s declaration angered both the Israelis and the Americans. Israelis reacted furiously to this suggestion and claimed that it is designed only to end the existence of the Jewish state. Secretary of State Colin Powell responded by repeating Washington’s mantra that “the two-state solution was the only way forward and the only way to achieve it was for Qureia to crack down on militants”. Yet, for decades, Israel was bitterly opposed to Palestinian statehood, claiming that there was no room for two states west of the River Jordan and that the establishment of a Palestinian state would threaten its very existence.
Today, Israel considers that the abandonment of the idea of Palestinian statehood is the true threat and seems to be insisting that the Palestinians have a state even if they no longer want one. Now we are told that Israel will cease to exist if there is no Palestinian state! This apparent reversal might appear baffling, but things are less confusing than they seem. The reality is that Israel has never wanted to see Palestinian statehood as part of any meaningful settlement to the ongoing conflict. The Sharon government continues to claim that it supports the Road Map, which calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state by next year, as the best available option. But Sharon knows that, not least due to his own manoeuvres, the Road Map is dead and his acceleration of colonization activity on the ground has rendered its implementation impossible.
What Israel wants is the entire land of Palestine, but without the people.
Despite two major waves of ethnic cleansing since 1948, and decades of repression, it has so far been very difficult for Israel to separate Palestine’s land from its people. Nevertheless, successive Israeli governments have systematically implemented a programme of colonisation and displacement. The programme is based on the idea of isolating and separating the areas which are heavily populated by Arabs, until the time comes when it will be possible for such areas to be emptied of their Arab occupants and annexed, no matter how long that may take. Until that happens, Israel would allow the Palestinians to call those separated, isolated, heavily populated enclaves a “provisional state,” a meaningless, invented label that can be revoked at Israel’s convenience, when the Palestinians inevitably fail to live up to whatever impossible demands Israel may add to its endless list. It is in this context that Israel doubled the number of settlers in the occupied territories since the Oslo Accords were signed.
As a result of Israel’s insatiable quest for Palestinian land, the area allotted to the Palestinian state has shrunk from 22 per cent of historic Palestine, to somewhere around 10-12 per cent, once all of Israel’s conditions are taken into account. This and the rapid construction of the apartheid wall have evidently rendered the two-state solution obsolete. If, as a result, Israel feels a “threat” because of growing calls for a binational democracy in all Palestine, then Israel has no one to blame but itself. Israelis increasingly realize that you cannot have a “Jewish state” and a “democracy” and at the same time hold on to any of the land occupied in 1967. Israel must choose, and yet it remains incapable of choosing; actually, it is too late. This state of affairs has prompted many serious observers and political leaders, including prominent Israelis, to openly question the viability of the two-state option.
Despite all the fuss, it is unlikely that Qureia actually meant what he said on 8 January, when he warned that if Israel took unilateral measures to formally annex most of the West Bank, as Sharon proposed, the Palestinians would respond by demanding a binational state. Yet, the depth of panic Qureia’s statement appears to have caused was indicated by how his position swung among three extremes in four days. After declaring Palestinian intentions to seek a one-state solutionon Thursday, he rushed on Friday to assert that the Palestinians would unilaterally declare independence instead. Following further Israeli anger, Qureia drew back even more, reverting to the old formula that there was no solution but for two states living side by side in peace.
This is not the first time Palestinian Authority figures spoke of using the threat of a campaign for one-state to pressure Israel. Yet, despite its rhetoric, the toothless PA has no ability to back up its threats, or even to make them sound credible. The PA cannot separate itself from the Oslo regime that created it. Pressure for one-state is starting to emerge from the grassroots — in the camps and the Palestinian diaspora, and as usual the PA is only following this, rather than leading the way.
Israel, meanwhile, is unlikely to revise or reverse the implementation of the Zionist programme to hold the land without the people in the absence of major international pressure. This pressure is mounting, as Israel is unable to conceal the ugliness of its rule over the Palestinians, but not fast enough to save the two-state solution.
Qureia’s statement was, in essence, a reflection of the growing realisation that the Palestinian quest for statehood has failed, but so has Israel’s efforts to make the Palestinians disappear. Once the pretence of the two-state solution “peace process” is finally dropped, we will all have to face up to the reality that Israel was probably right all along: there is no room (more specifically Israel has left no room) for two states west of the Jordan. But neither is there room for any kind of religious or ethnic apartheid state, whether it is ruled by Jews or by Palestinians. The only possible future to save both peoples is democracy, equality and partnership.
The writer is former ambassador and permanent representative of Jordan at the UN and a regular contributor to EI.