Time to bury dead ideas about Palestine

Only a just solution can end the current reality of religious and ethnic discrimination. (T.S./Activestills.org)


There is a growing recognition that the Israeli settlement enterprise in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is, in practical terms, irreversible. The two-state solution, which for decades has been characterized as the preferred solution of an amorphous “international consensus” has generally been understood to involve a return to the pre-1967 occupation boundaries (referred to as the green line) with minor territorial adjustments by the parties. By now, even optimists refer to this solution as “unlikely” and “virtually impossible,” while realists recognize that the concept has outlived its usefulness as a political aspiration.

Israeli prime ministers (including Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and, most recently, Benjamin Netanyahu) have, in turn, announced their transformation from supporting an Israel-centric one-state solution to a two-state solution. In each case, these announcements have caused short-lived paroxysms of hopefulness among dispirited two-staters. But in the wake of each of these would-be conversion experiences, foreboding and gloom have returned, time and again, as it becomes evident that the language of political flexibility is merely a rhetorical ploy. Each Israeli government since 1967, whether led by Labor, Likud, or Kadima, has perpetuated the dispossession of Palestinians and the concomitant establishment of Jewish-only colonies on expropriated Palestinian land.

All talk to the contrary — including ineffectual official objections registered by the Obama Administration — it is evident that the Israeli political establishment has been and is utterly lacking the political will to take even minimal steps in the direction of a two-state solution. Official maps disseminated by Israeli government ministries show that the green line has been effectively erased; Israel stretches from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River (see for example maps offered by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism or the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption). Although Israel’s de facto borders include the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the people who live there, the non-Jews who inhabit this land are in a condition of perpetual limbo, deprived of political rights.

Mainline Protestant Christian denominations, like other institutions, are struggling to reconcile their historic, official two-state position with the mounting awareness of its uselessness as a model. Growing numbers within those denominations are promoting an essential reexamination of their churches’ support for an outcome that, instead of delivering the hoped-for just peace, merely legitimizes decades of illegal activity and leaves the Palestinians fragmented, impoverished and virtually landless.

As the two-state solution in its historical incarnation faces abandonment on practical — if not moral and ideological — grounds, other political models for coexistence are being explored and discussed. The one-state solution remains a live option, if in an egalitarian and democratic binational expression different than the Greater Israel envisioned by many Zionists. All possible outcomes — one state, two states, and a continuation of the deplorable status quo — face opposition from one or more parties on demographic, religious, security, ideological, or economic grounds; therefore, no solution can be eliminated from consideration as hopelessly idealistic or fatally impractical. Any resolution worth aspiring to will require, over time, a profound transformation in consciousness and identity among Palestinians and Israelis.

Can the moribund two-state solution be resuscitated? Can the two-states-for-two-peoples notion be implemented in a way that does not hinge on redrawing Israel’s borders to legalize its state-sponsored land-grab of Palestinian territory? Could a “settlers-to-citizens” program offer the Jewish settlers now living in East Jerusalem and other West Bank colonies an alternative to moving back to Israel? Imagine Palestine, a democratic state with a Jewish minority, in which today’s settlers emerge from behind their razor-wire-encircled, self-inflicted ghettoes and become tomorrow’s neighbors. Imagine Israel, finally at home in the Middle East, its indigenous Palestinian minority no longer second-class citizens but living in full equality with their Jewish neighbors. Can the Israeli government offer its settlers an alternative to repatriation by assisting those settlers to buy the land and dwellings they call home from the Palestinian owners on whose land those dwellings have been built? What if a state-funded Israeli reparations program were to help fund the economic redevelopment of the nascent Palestinian state, whose current state of de-development is a by-product — if not a goal — of the Israeli settlement and occupation enterprise?

The old ideas, like the peace process itself, are dead; it is time to lay them aside and move on. Because the Palestinian, Israeli and US governments have shown themselves to be obstacles to a resolution, it is up to ordinary Palestinians, Israelis and Americans to work together with allies around the globe to find the way forward. Whether a one-state, a two-state, or other solution, a just solution will leave behind the legacy of religious and ethnic discrimination that has created the current painful reality.

Martha Reese is a Chicago-based veteran interfaith peace activist who has lived and traveled in the Middle East. She is a member of the steering committee of the Committee for a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine (www.cjpip.org).