There is no solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict other than two states for two peoples, if solution means end of the conflict. Jews and Arabs have been killing each other and have been willing to die for more than 100 years over their determination to have a territorial expression of their identity – a place they can call their own. Neither people agrees to be ruled over by the other. Neither side is interested in living in a state with a homogenized identity – say, the United States of Israel-Palestine. Binational states don’t really exist or work. The only solution remains partition.
The reality created by the failure of the Oslo agreements that were aimed at reaching understandings and building trust in order to resolve the most contentious issues is untenable, undesirable and will inevitably lead to more violence. There is currently a one-state reality in which one side is in control and the other side is denied the most basic human and national rights. Israel attempts to claim that it does not rule over the Palestinians because 98 percent of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are under the direct rule of the Palestinian Authority. The fact that the PA takes care of waste removal, social services, education and health does not hide the truth that in reality the real government in the West Bank is the Israeli Civil Administration.
The PA has little ability to do anything that indicates true sovereignty and almost everything requires Israel’s approval. And when Israel does not approve, it withholds its agreement, freezes tax revenues, limits movement, closes roads, enters the “PA-controlled areas” at will. Even Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas requires the approval of the Israeli army to move around in the West Bank. Gaza remains shut off from the world with Israel and Egypt, in cooperation, controlling Gaza’s external borders and the flow of people and goods in and out of Gaza. The Palestinian people are not free and no status of peace will ever emerge from this reality.
The “two states for two peoples” vision as has been conceptualized over the years has failed to emerge because the parties have not yet been able to reach an agreed formula which resolves all of the outstanding issues. It is not only the hard-core, central issues such as borders, Jerusalem and refugees which remain difficult to resolve, but lack of a compelling vision that in turn significantly lessens the political will and ability to imagine a better future, on both sides of the conflict, removing the public pressure because of the general lack of hope. The vision of two states living behind walls, barbed wire and checkpoints can hardly inspire people to take to the streets. Two states living behind walls and fences will also not create or sustain peace.
While the status quo of no solution is lacking, the lack is mainly felt on the Palestinian side, and many Israelis are able to carry on their daily lives without really giving thought to the conflict. This is all but impossible for Palestinians.
The current election campaign has not provided one iota of vision regarding peace. It is as if Israel were in the middle of Europe, or in Ohio, where only social and economic issues are relevant to the candidates. The issue which more than anything else will determine the future of the State of Israel – the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – is barely mentioned.
So many years of failed negotiations have led to most leaders and citizens adopting the point of view that we need to “manage” the conflict because we cannot resolve it. I don’t believe that this conflict can be managed, and I do believe that it can be resolved. But that requires leaders with vision – something which appears to be in short supply. I have written in this column repeatedly over the past years what the formula is for bringing about agreement and resolution. But it is clear to me that while it is possible to reach an agreement with the Palestinian leadership, it is not possible to reach an agreement with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
It is he who has blocked every serious attempt over the past years to reach agreements with the Palestinians.
This is mainly because he is not interested in or willing to reach an agreement that will allow a two-state solution to materialize. Labor leader Isaac Herzog might be able to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, but it is difficult to know because he has not told us what he really believes regarding the issue of peace with the Palestinians.
If Netanyahu wins the March 17 elections, there will be no chance at all for a negotiated agreement with the Palestinians. The possible scenarios that may emerge are quite clear: a right-wing, Netanyahu-led government will continue to expand settlements all around the West Bank and within Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem.
This will go against the entire world. This goes directly against the possibility of maintaining a state which is both the nation state of the Jewish people and a democracy. One state for two unequal peoples means a new form of apartheid. It means the end of Israel’s ability to claim it is a democracy.
There is already a binational reality on the ground with Israel in control. Anyone who travels through the Palestinian areas is immediately struck by the total lack of equality and the total Israeli control and domination over Palestinians’ lives. With 62% of the West Bank under full Israeli control and new settlements sprouting on every hilltop, it is quite clear that if the two-state solution does not emerge rather quickly, it never will.
No person with the ability to distinguish between right and wrong can justify the conditions under which Palestinians live in the West Bank (and even more so in Gaza). It is quite clear that most of the world is coming to that very conclusion.
A right-wing victory in March, as far as I can see, will lead Israel to the point of no return. Increasing international pressure, boycotts and sanctions together with the extremely distasteful reality for both Jewish and Arabs citizens of Israel who actually care about democratic values will push Israel to be the pariah of the Western world. Jews around the world will suffer increased anti-Semitism, spurred by intensive anti-Israeli sentiments.
The current elections are the most critical ones that Israel has ever faced and yet the candidates and political parties are acting as if they were about the price of cottage cheese once again.
I expect to hear from the candidates and the parties clear, direct visions and policies regarding the future of the relations between the Palestinian people and the State of Israel. This is the issue that will determine our future. It is time, one month before the elections, for the candidates to be bold and tell us what they really think – because until now they have been hiding behind empty words and stupid video clips.
The author is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit. His new book Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel has been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in Hebrew and as The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas by The Toby Press.