With no Israeli-Palestinian negotiations having taken place in years and with none in the imaginable future, holding onto the “two-state solution” appears by many to be unrealistic.
This belief is held not only among many Israelis and Palestinians, but also among many in the international community. The reality on the ground continues to wither the possibility of partition.
The settlement footprint – the actual built-up areas of the settlements – remains under 5% of the total of the West Bank, but the entrenchment of total Israeli control has expanded to the point that partition may not be possible at all.
Driving around the West Bank, it is quite apparent from the enormous investment in the road network being built that Israel’s entanglement in and around the some three million Palestinians is a web that appears to be nearly impossible to break.
Some people have been saying this for years. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing governments, with the participation of the Zionist- Center parties, including Labor, have succeeded in diminishing the support for a two-state solution all around the region. The Palestinian leadership has contributed as well to this negative process, but due to the clear lack of equal power and control between the two sides, the primary weight of responsibility falls on Israel.
For more than 30 years I and others have questioned the strategy behind the continued Israeli entrenchment in the West Bank.
There was a very brief period immediately following the Oslo Accords, in 1993-1994, when I thought that a course had been set to remove Israeli control over the Palestinians and to allow the Palestinians to achieve independence. But when the security paradigm (which did not bring security) took over, the original conceptualization of the accords developed by Prof. Yair Hirschfeld and Dr. Ron Pundak – which was based on bilateral and increasing regional cross-border cooperation in every field of life – gave way to the separation paradigm.
I never accepted the idea of total separation as supported by much of the Zionist Center and Left and expressed best by Ehud Barak in his famous slogan of “Us here, and them there.” For me, the two-state solution has always meant creating a reality of genuine cooperation across borders – in which the borders would eventually become very permeable, with many bridges of cooperation crossing them.
I have always envisioned a Jewish national minority living within a Palestinian state as citizens with rights and obligations that would be parallel to those of the Palestinian national minority inside of Israel. We, both Israelis and Palestinians, need clear and defined borders, but they must be developed within a strategy of bilateral and regional cooperation and not conceptualized as walls and barbed wire fences.
Peace and reconciliation come from building cooperation over a long period of time, but it begins with a political agreement. The Oslo Accords were translated into reality by politicians and eventually destroyed by Israeli refusal to continue to withdraw from territory and by Palestinian terrorism. Peace was frozen by increased Israeli settlement in areas that should have become part of the Palestinian state. Palestinian terrorism, Israeli violent responses – which hit the entire Palestinian population – and increasing separation behind walls and fences – which not only were built to protect Israel, but clearly also to grab Palestinian land – pushed us further away from peace.
The reality in the West Bank for Palestinians is so blatantly dismal and unjust that growing numbers of Israelis and Palestinians have come to believe that no peace is possible. The two-state solution seems very unviable to both Israelis and Palestinians alike and most young Palestinians today seem to not want it anymore. They would rather abandon the idea of a mini-Palestinian state and wage the battle for equal rights in a non-Jewish democratic state from the river to the sea with the right of return for all the Palestinian refugees who want to return.
The right-wing strategy, which is better called a fantasy, is that Israel can impose “autonomy” or “self-rule” or a “state-minus” on the Palestinians, leaving Israel in total control of its borders, the skies, water, electricity, the electro-magnetic sphere, movement and access, immigration, population registry, etc.
This is in some way the reality that exists today.
The Palestinian Authority is essentially an authority without real authority. But this reality will never be accepted by the Palestinians or by Israel’s Arab neighbors, near and far.
Do not be misled by the apparent security cooperation that exists between Israel and some of the Arab countries. It is temporary and has no real significant roots because for the Arab world, Palestine is still occupied and Israel is the occupier. Most of the Arab world is prepared to accept Israel once an Israeli-Palestinian agreement is reached. But reaching that agreement depends on accepting a shared Jerusalem, which is the capital of Israel and Palestine and agreeing on solutions for all of the other core issues, including security, borders, settlements, refugees and water.
There really is no one-state solution. It does not resolve the conflict because it does not provide either side with the territorial expression of the national identity, which is what they have been willing to fight and die for.
The total-separation paradigm is also not a viable solution and will not bring peace.
Many say we should forget about speaking about peace, which is not a possibility, and should think about unilateral steps for Israel to determine its own border. That is what Israel did in Gaza, except they say that Israel should withdraw settlements behind the line it chooses – most likely the line of the separation barrier (and who said it is not a land grab?) – but leave the army on the other side of the wall.
In other words, end the occupation without ending it.
This is also a fantasy that will lead to continued violence and conflict.
Both Israelis and Palestinians must return to the table and reach agreements. But this is likely not going to happen until there is a leadership change on both sides. This too will happen, and not too long in the future.
The author is working on the development of an All Jerusalem Israeli Palestinian list – “Al-Quds-Yerushalayim” to run in the Jerusalem City Council. His new book In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine has been published by Vanderbilt University Press.