Thirty years ago, during the fourth month of the First Intifada, I launched the creation of IPCRI (Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information), a joint Israeli Palestinian public policy think tank. IPCRI was created to enable Israeli-Palestinian joint strategic thinking and planning of professionals and decision makers to figure out how to create and implement a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. By March 1988 it was clear that the First Intifada had propelled the Palestinian national movement into greater pragmatism that would lead to a process of mutual recognition and a peace process.
Over the next 24 years, I helped to organize, facilitate, negotiate, co-chair and run more than 2,000 working group meetings of mainstream Israelis and Palestinians, mostly professionals in their fields, from all walks of life on every subject that touches on the Israeli-Palestinian relationship including security, border management, refugees, Jerusalem, water, economics and business, agriculture, tourism, legal issues, environment, public health and more. It became clear very quickly that there were possible solutions to every issue in conflict, but that in order to be productive and constructive, the discussions began with the agreement that the end game was the two-state solution based on the June 4, 1967 lines. We engaged in a kind of reverse engineering – knowing where we wanted to get to and then working on how to get there.
With a failed peace process behind us, and with no current peace process on the horizon and no negotiations having taken place for more than four years, it has become fashionable to imagine other possible solutions. I seriously question the assumption that there are solutions to this conflict other than the two-state solution, because at the core this conflict is a shared desire for territorial expression of identity. No other solution enables that within the given territory between the River and the Sea.
There is possibility of a “United States of Israel-Palestine” – a state without a national identity that answers what both people are fighting for. In fact, when I hear Israelis or Palestinians speak of a “one-state solution” I only have to scratch a little below the surface to discover that the Jews are talking about a Jewish state and the Palestinians are talking about a Palestine state.
There is also no solution in which Israel annexes the settlement blocs, surrounds the Palestinians with its military, does not allow them to have any control of their external borders, but grants them real autonomy within Israeli control. No Palestinian leader would ever agree to that, nor would the overwhelming majority of Palestinian people.
But just as 30 years ago when I pushed forward on trying to understand the hows of creating a two-state solution, I have been lately wondering how it would be possible to create a one-state solution – just for the sake of argument.
I travel every week all around the West Bank. There is no part of the West Bank that I have not driven through and explored, meeting people and getting to know them. I have been doing this for 40 years. In recent years my efforts have been devoted mostly to creating partnerships in the advancement of renewable energy projects to help to create Palestinian independence.
Acknowledging the very partial authority of the Palestinian Authority, and recognizing that the Israeli army is really in control of the West Bank, I began this process by thinking about what would happen to the institutional infrastructure that the Palestinians have created over the past 30 years. What would happen to the Palestinian Energy and Natural Resources Authority (PENRA), to the Palestinian Energy Regulatory Commission (PERC), the Palestinian Electricity Transmission Company Ltd. (PETL), and the Palestinian electricity distribution companies (JDECO, SELCO, NETCO, TUBASECO, HEBCO) – and this is in just one small sector.
The institutions of Palestinian statehood exist and they are working, and some function quite well. The Education Ministry, Local Governments Ministry, Water Authority, Monetary Authority, National Economy Ministry, Finance Ministry, courts, police, fire brigades – basically every aspect and institution of a state government exists in Palestine today. I have no idea how one would go about dismantling all of that in order to be integrated into parallel institutions that exist in Israel.
I don’t believe that anyone who supports a one-state solution has actually given any real thought to how to create that one state. Of course those who see the one-state solution as being a one nation-state solution, with a large, passive, non-participatory minority, is simply living on another planet. And those who believe that the 50-year-old, binational, one-state non-democratic reality would ever be acceptable to the millions of Palestinians living it are also living on another planet.
This is not to say that a democratic state of Israel-Palestine could never exist, but rather that such a state can never be a solution to the territorial-identity conflict.
While being open and willing to consider other proposals on how to resolve this conflict, I am also willing to accept the idea that there are no solutions. I have heard almost nothing constructive and realistic that would move us to a place where we decrease hatred and improve the lives of people living on both sides of the conflict.
One of the many lessons learned from the failure of the peace processes until now should be that in order to reach a destination of peace, we have to know a lot better where we want to be. I have not yet seen a better destination than a two-state solution, with two peoples living in peace and cooperation with permeable borders people and goods can move easily across. The separation paradigm offered by the Israeli Left, based on walls and fences, is as much of a disaster as the unilateral annexation paradigms of the Right.
The author is now working on the encouragement of Palestinians to run for the Jerusalem City Council as a form of the Palestinian struggle and as a means of challenging the status quo. His new book In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine has been published by Vanderbilt University Press.