One State: threat or promise of peace?

Jordan’s Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher

In a recent visit to Luxembourg, Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher voiced his grave concern over the fading promise of a Palestinian-Israeli settlement, based on two-state solution. What he said sounds more like a recognition of a harsh reality than what may otherwise be viewed as a warning to avoid the worst.

Warnings of this kind were heard before, from prominent Arabs, Israelis and others. They were hardly heeded, or even taken seriously. Most of us assumed that such warnings were no more than good efforts to expose the dangers of Israeli procrastination, with the positive intent of urging parties to work harder for peace. This must also have been Muasher’s motive, as he did indeed concluded his admonition by stressing that “it is becoming very imperative on all of us to renew our efforts in order to put the roadmap back on track and in order to effect a two-state solution, because the alternatives are very dire, very serious for all of us”.

The significance of the minister’s statement, though, lies mainly in what preceded his concluding advice. He said that Israel’s settlement policy and building of the wall “which would basically carve up the West Bank into a number of small entities would render a two-state solution impossible”. Here he is absolutely right. He further elaborated by listing the “very serious and dire alternatives” in case this very dangerous development of bypassing the two-state solution is allowed to happen.

He said that if the “security wall” is completed, the Palestinians will either ask to become equal citizens in Israel, which Israel will certainly and strongly reject, or will have to remain under Israeli occupation “and that situation is also unsustainable, nor would it lead to any security in the region”. Again, this is perfectly correct.

By asking to become equal citizens in the state that already exists, Israel, the Palestinians would have abandoned their aspiration for their own state, programmed by President George Bush and the Quartet roadmap for production, albeit with no approved specifications, in 2005. This clearly means one state instead of two; one state for both the Israelis and the Palestinians, which transforms the status of the Palestinians from occupied subjects to citizens, and transforms Israel from an oppressive, racist, occupying regime into a possible democracy.

While this notion is seen by some as a threat, others view it as a promise. By continuing to create illegal facts on the ground, to render Palestinians territorial independence impossible, Israel is enforcing the one state option by making it the last and only option, and indeed more of a de facto promise.

This, however, is not new. The PLO has maintained for decades a political platform which called for a “secular democratic state in Palestine” for both Arabs and Jews, as the final settlement of the conflict. Its acceptance, in the eighties, of the two-state option was meant to be a great concession to Israel. It was the first signal of Palestinian recognition of the Jewish state, as it was the first indication that the PLO was willing to share, rather than claim, the entire historic land of Palestine. But Israel always managed to undo the value of such gestures by considering them as accrued gains, rather than opportunities for reciprocation and confidence building.

Exactly a year ago, the UN envoy in the region, Terje Roed Larsen, wrote in Haaretz, expressing his grave concern over the dangers facing the two-state solution. Amongst many other factors, Larsen stressed two: the Israeli settlements, and the Israeli destruction of the Palestinian National Authority. The apartheid wall was not an issue at the time.

At about the same time (Oct. 25, 2002), a report by Marc Berelman appeared in The Forward. It revealed significant details of a PNA letter, which was handed to top American officials, expressing concern at the escalation of Israeli settlement activity, describing it as a grave reality forcing the authority to reconsider the two-state option. The ten-page letter, accompanied by five detailed maps of Israeli settlement expansion, had been delivered on Oct. 7, 2002 to Secretary of State Colin Powell and his aide David Satterfield by PNA minister Salem Fayyad.

The same package was received the day after by Condoleezza Rice who, according to the report, was surprised. The report further reveals that Ahmad Qureia, the speaker of the Palestinian parliament at the time, sent, a week later, a similar message to the White House, reaffirming the same fears and warning that “Israel’s ultimate goal is to permit a Palestinian ‘state’ which would be in effect the equivalent of a Native American Indian reservation”.

One year later, the situation has only gravely worsened. Israel continues to build settlements and, by building the apartheid wall, it continued to further complicate an already complex situation. During the same period, the PNA position was also badly weakened. Washington’s decision to shun and call for the overthrow of the democratically elected president, Arafat, who had been put by Israel under virtual office arrest, left the PNA in no position to pursue the one state path, even if just to expose the Israeli detrimental measures, to gain Washington’s sympathy. Any such sympathy now requires more appeasement of Washington and, for that matter, of Israel, and the path towards that goal runs directly in a direction opposite to any “disturbing” reference to the one-state option.

Ironically, and despite the widely recognised reality that the real obstacles in the way of Israeli’s best long-term interest (the creation of an independent Palestinian state) are the facts which Israel has been steadily creating on the ground — mainly the occupation, the settlements, the by-pass roads, the security zones and recently the wall — Israel will never volunteer to reverse these facts on its own. The unique US-guaranteed and protected exemption of Israel from the requirements of the rule of international law, the absence of any likelihood that this will change in the foreseeable future, accompanied by lack of any real local or regional challenges to the Israeli lawlessness (except for the Intifada) will keep Israel’s hand free to do much worse.

Where does that leave the region?

Any remaining validity of the two-state option depends largely on the fulfilment of an essential prerequisite: Israel should end its occupation and withdraw its forces and settlers right to the lines of June 4, 1967, with East Jerusalem included. This certainly is not an option, not only due to the Israeli usual intransigence, but also, and painfully, because in most of the unfulfilled agreements and the unofficial understandings reached between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the latter agreed to allow most of the Jewish settlements to remain in place and accepted weird territorial arrangements, including in Jerusalem. This is doubly harmful. On the one hand, it encourages Israeli greed by providing Israel with precious justification for its illegal settlement policy; and on the other, it directly undermines a contiguous Palestinian state.

Maintaining the occupation is not a viable option either. That will cost Israel its “democracy” and transform it into an apartheid regime instead, but with a perpetual condition of no peace and no security. It would be very strange if Israel settled for that.

From an Israeli point of view, ethnic cleansing would probably be the ideal solution to its multiple dilemma. Israel started this process since its early days, with the expulsion from their land, by horrifying means, of over half of the entire population of Palestine (1,380,000) in 1947/1948. A determined and pre-planned policy of cleansing the land of its indigenous population has been constantly maintained in various forms along successive decades of occupation, including the systematic destruction of the Palestinian infrastructure and houses, confiscation of land and resources, bulldozing of trees and farms, and crippling limitation of opportunities to live, work and get education.

Sharon would not be restrained by any moral, humanitarian or legal considerations from committing the worst atrocities, should that lead to the mass exodus of the Palestinians in any direction.

This is not an option either. It is true that Israel, not only Sharon, has all the malicious intentions, but not the practical means to force mass deportation of Palestinians. Israel had anticipated that the less than the three quarters of a million Palestinians who stayed behind in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza in 1948 would disappear. They have quadrupled in numbers, instead. Their attachment to their land, their determined resolve to remain, will not be broken by any such Israeli attempt to uproot them. Individual cases of occasional departures, which continue to take place, will not have any significant effect.

It is fairly right to assume that Israel would oppose the one-state option at any cost, because it would mean the end of the Jewish character of the state; the PNA would oppose it because it would end its monopoly on power; and the US would oppose it because Israel does. Why, then, should it be an option?

The imperatives of history, along with the dynamics of a finally accepted formula of one land for two people, will offer the two peoples the choice of perpetual war or democratic and peaceful coexistence. Who would opt for a state of perpetual war?

The writer is former ambassador of Jordan to the UN. This article first appeared in The Jordan Times.