Following the recent redrawing of the Israeli political map, in the wake of Amir Peretz’s election to the leadership of the Labour Party, and Sharon’s manoeuvre into centre stage, supported by the perennial chameleon, Peres, new talk is bubbling of that old chestnut – the two-state solution. Even on the pages of the Guardian, such hopes were recently aired by the veteran Labour MP, Gerald Kaufman (No peace with Sharon, December 7th). Kaufman, a stalwart of peace in the middle East, and a sharp critic of Israeli policies, falls for this line like he did in the past, when Shimon Peres was his chosen route for peace.
The two-state solution, in the form of Israeli withdrawal to the Green Line of the pre-1967 war, would, was it to be implemented, leave the Palestinians with 22% of their own country. For the Palestinian population, which is roughly the size of the Israeli Jewish population, and after a century of suffering, accepting the loss of four fifths of their country to mainly foreign settlers, ‘returning’ after two millennia, is not an easy decision to take. It is made even more difficult by facts on the ground: Israel will have territorial contiguity, while Palestine will be divided into two parts, with the connecting roads under Israeli control. All the valuable assets of the small country – water resources, the long coastline, the arable land – will be in Israeli hands. Israel has the fourth most powerful army in the world, a first-world technological economy, and the unwavering support of the most powerful empire on earth, in whatever it decides to do.; this, after almost four decades of brutal and illegal occupation, in which it did all it could to break the spirit and destroy the daily life of most Palestinians. It may be just that imbalance of power which drove the Palestinian leadership to accept this most unequal of peace formulas in Oslo, and move towards resolution of the conflict by a negotiated solution. For a while, this looked feasible – Mr. Rabin has indicated that the settlements in the occupied territories will have to be removed, as part of an overall peace settlement, which included Syria and the Lebanon.
The settlers were not about to accept that – Mr. Sharon, the founding father of the settlement enterprise, a giant project of diverting funds, priorities and effort so as to make any political solution impossible – was there right behind them, when Mr. Rabin was shot for trying to say the obvious: Israel must vacate all territories taken by force, to allow the Palestinians a fifth of their own country – that was the price of peace. Most of us would argue that it was the Palestinian people who were asked to pay the bill for the peace process – giving up most of their country, so they will be allowed to govern themselves in a tiny corner of it.
But it was not to be. Mr. Rabin will never get to the point of getting any settlers off their militarised, illegal outposts, and will be shot in the midst of one of Israel’s peace rallies. Following that vile murder, a murder of a man, an idea and a vast array of hopes, all Israeli leaders who followed him were reluctant to go as far – to accept what was the rationale of the Oslo accord – Israel must vacate ALL its settlements, every single one of them, including those areas of Jerusalem which were unilaterally and illegally annexed. There was no other way – this was the very reasonable bottom line for most Palestinians, and most people elsewhere could easily see the reasoning and justice behind such a solution. But not Israel’s leaders; all of them, to a man – Peres, Nethanyahu, Barak, and now Sharon, the master of the settlement project – have refused to come to terms with reality. Whole years of waiting have passed, in which the Palestinians were hoping that promises will be honoured – puny, humiliating and minimalist promises. But the Israeli society was not ready, and still is not ready, to face the simple realities that it had created by its military occupation, and refused to make even those minimal adjustments which would create the necessary conditions for peace. Nowhere was this clearer than during the recent stage-managed withdrawal from Gaza – a price Sharon is ready to pay for staying in the rest of the mini-empire he has created in the occupied territories of Palestine. This will be, he hopes, the final nail in the Oslo coffin.
It may be argued that Oslo could never work, offering the Palestinians so little in return for their giving up the struggle to liberate Palestine. That may well be true, but for a while Israel was offered a genuine possibility for peaceful coexistence. It failed to live up to this historical opportunity, it refused consistently to make the adjustments; instead, it chose to hang on to military spoils, to the continued dehumanising of the occupation and its regime of terror and intimidation. If Israel was ready to accept the Oslo accord and what it entailed, the argument for building the tallest wall in creation could have been made, and many lives on both sides would have been saved, as well as lives of others elsewhere, probably.
This is not something I find easy to write, as an Israeli and son of Holocaust survivors – I would like to be able to argue for an Israeli-Hebrew entity – not a Zionist militarist enterprise, of course, but a democratic, autonomous political and cultural entity, twinned with a similar Palestinian entity. But after four decades of military rule, and all the desecration of political, human, civil, property and other forms of rights by the occupation regime, most people will agree that no support should be given to this outdated, violent, immoral and inefficient mode of domination of one people over another. If it at least worked for the oppressors, some may well justify the means for the end. Alas, it did not, cannot and will not work for the benefit of either side. The international community was quick to realise this in South Africa, Cyprus, Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Kuwait, and a number of other zones of conflict. Military occupation cannot be condoned; domination through power and might will never get the vanquished to accept the occupiers; political solutions enforced by the powerful on the powerless are wrong, not just morally, but because they undermine the rule of law elsewhere.
This reality, simple enough in itself, was not just avoided by Israel, but by the powerful forces in the new world order. This has finally come home to roost – the removal of hope for a solution by argument and negotiation, leaves the ground for extremists and those who feel, that having lost all other avenues, and not being in control of any real power to change reality, suicide is the only means of affecting reality. This in itself is a most serious indictment of the international political order – driving a nation into this corner is nothing but criminal short-sightedness – yet that is exactly what happened to the Palestinian claim for natural justice – it was totally ignored for over half a century.
So, after all that has taken place since October 2000, when Mr. Sharon, chief architect and author of much Israeli aggression, from the Kibya massacre, through Sabra and Shatila to the Al Aqsa Intifada, has made it impossible, by careful design and detailed work over many decades, to affect the two state solution. The Wall – which will create sixteen ghettoes of a kind the world has never seen, even during the atrocities of WWII, making life for Palestinians just about impossible – is the last straw. It will achieve exactly what it was designed to do – no possibility of going back to the 1967 borders.
So, what should Palestinians do? What should the international community do? Are we to suffer the menace, illegality and atrocities of the Sharon regime as if they were a natural disasters? Should the international community, the UN, the EU (and even the USA…) just accept whatever Sharon does, when they would never have done so if those atrocities were to be committed by Milosevic, Saddam or Idi Amin? If it is possible (and necessary) to intervene in Serbia, why not in Palestine?
The mistake Chomsky makes is to assume that there is still a two-state solution on the table. This is no longer an option – Sharon has made sure that this is so. Many Palestinians are now returning to an earlier, more principled stage of their political development and argument – the PLO solution of a secular, democratic single state in the whole of Palestine, one state which allows equal rights to Jews and Arabs alike. It is ironic that through failing to grasp the nettle which would have enabled them to keep a separate Israeli state in the pre 1967 borders, Israeli leaders have forces a change in Palestinian thinking: ‘if we are not allowed to live as a free people in 22% of our country, or come to that, even 10% of it, maybe we should deamnd the whole country, for both people to live in peace, as equals.’
What Gerald Kaufman is suggesting is too little, too late – not because Palestine rejected this solution, but because Israel did. The Palestinians are not turkeys, and will not vote for Christmas, and the idea that they can be forced into the sixteen ghettoes is ludicrous. But so also is the idea that Israel will go back to the 1967 borders willingly – the international community bears the full responsibility for failing to act when it could. While it is not clear when such a futuristic solution of Jew and Arab living together may materialise, it seems that it is the only one left, as Israel has made damn sure no other solution is allowed half a chance. The question seems to be – must we have a bloody showdown, massacres and ethnic cleansing before it emerges. That is a question the international community could ill-afford to ignore.
Prof. Bresheeth is an Israeli academic working at the University of East London. He is the co-editor (with Nira Yuval-Davis) of The Gulf War and the New World Order, published by Zed Books, and co-author (with Stuart Hood) of Introduction to the Holocaust, published by Icon Books.
Published originally in Al Ahram Weekly. Copy on: https://www.academia.edu/1272615/Two_states_too_little_too_late
Other articles by Haim Bresheeth
The Oslo Accords 20 years on: Doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun?
Haim Bresheeth, Friday 20 Sep 2013