78:22 – the formula which could have resolved the tragic clash of two impotent peoples
Two states – by design or disaster
Tony Klug writes: On the 40th anniversary of my Fabian pamphlet ‘Middle East Conflict: a tale of two peoples’, which called for a Palestinian state alongside Israel, this essay revisits the proposal in the light of subsequent developments and today’s realities.
(An edited version of this article appeared as the ‘JC essay’ in the Jewish Chronicle on 4 January 2013 under the title ‘Israel will pay the price for intransigence’ )
Looking back on the 1970s, they were in general a time of cautious –if ultimately misplaced – optimism. Not to paint too rosy a picture but,following a shaky few years in the wake of the June 1967 war, both Israelis and Palestinian residents of the West Bank were enjoying full employment, living standards were rising, fedayeen guerrilla activity had virtually ceased, and mutual contempt and fear were stealthily giving way to mutual curiosity and incipient dialogue. Movement between Israel and the occupied West Bank was barely restricted.
In undertaking research for my doctoral thesis on Israel’s rule over the territory, I regularly drove back and forth without hindrance, often in the company of Israeli and Palestinian colleagues. There were almost no checkpoints or roadblocks, no segregated highways and no genius had yet thought to divide the minuscule West Bank into three separate zones with different governances for each of them. Nor had unsightly eight- metre-high concrete walls and other barriers yet become a feature of the spectacular landscape.
Although settlement activity was gathering speed, the supposition of most people on both sides of the divide was that Israel would relinquish the bulk of the West Bank and Gaza sooner or later. Various plans abounded. The main debate was about the extent and timing of Israeli withdrawal. It was widely thought that evacuated West Bank land would revert to Jordanian rule, an assumption that was implicit in the unanimously adopted UN Security Council Resolution 242* of November 1967.
However, a small number of people, myself included, had started to call for the West Bank and Gaza Strip to be handed not to the Jordanian king but to the Palestinian inhabitants of these territories to form their own independent sovereign state alongside Israel. I felt sure that anyone who made a genuine effort to view the conflict through the eyes of the principal protagonists, each in turn, while parking their own preconceptions and prejudices at the doorstep, would reach the same conclusion. More and more people did indeed come round to this view over time, including most Israelis and Palestinians.
However, it took a further three decades for the two-state formula officially to replace the ‘Jordanian option’ as the new global consensus, when it was endorsed by Security Council Resolution 1397 in March 2002 and simultaneously incorporated into the Arab Peace Initiative. Far too many years had, in the meantime, been squandered by persistently negligent major powers, during which time Israeli control over Palestinian lives and the damaging – and self-destructive – expropriation and settlement of their land had continued apace, threatening not just the prospect of a viable Palestinian state but also jeopardizing the future of a predominantly Jewish state. A double catastrophe was in the making, having in mind the respective histories and contemporary aspirations of the two peoples.
The basic case for a Jewish homeland was strikingly, if inadvertently, put by the poet Lord Byron, as far back as 1815, when some of the worst tragedies to face the Jewish people, including the tsarist pogroms and the Nazi Holocaust, still lay a distance ahead and several decades before Theodor Herzl, the founder of political Zionism, was a twinkle in anyone’s eye. Byron wrote: “The wild dove hath her nest, the fox his cave, mankind their country, Israel but the grave!” By “Israel,” of course, he meant the Jewish people.
But, in the attempt, more than a century later, to rectify the enduring Jewish calamity, a second people paid a heavy price. The ill-fated Palestinians, in common with other colonized peoples, had looked forward to their future independence free from foreign rule, only to find that another people, mostly from foreign parts, was simultaneously laying claim to the same land. Of course the Palestinians resisted. Any people would have resisted in their place. Israelis certainly would have done so. Dispossessed and degraded, the Palestinians were among the principal losers in the geopolitical lottery that followed the horrors of the Second World War. Their original felony was, in essence, to be in the way of another distressed people’s frantic survival strategy.
This tragic historical clash – the product of centuries of virulent antisemitism of European nations at home and their ruthless imperialism abroad – is the root of the conflict. Everything else has been grafted on retrospectively. Self-serving explanations of the type that portray either people as innately wicked or falsify their histories, disparage their sufferings or belittle their national aspirations, add nothing to our understanding of the problem or how to solve it. They merely confound the issues, deepen the hatred and poison the air. The core case for each side stands proud on its own terms. Neither one is nullified because the other side also has a strong and valid case.
The bottom line is that both peoples overwhelmingly want their own state. All the evidence and all the reasoning point to this aspiration being held no less strongly today than it was when my pamphlet advocated the two-state formula forty years ago. If anything, national sentiment has hardened since then. The first preference of many on both sides is for a state in all of the land. The second preference is for a state in part of the land. As for a third preference, there isn’t really one. While there has been some talk recently about one unitary state for both peoples, this idea has little significant support at the grass-roots level on either side.
But the first preference is plainly not feasible either, as the other people is not going away. So the only plausible choice continues to be to find a way of sharing the land on the basis of two states for two peoples, even if it means creatively adapting the earlier conception of this model in the light of today’s more problematic circumstances. There simply is no practical alternative way out of the current impasse. (This is not to rule out, however, a future confederal arrangement, possibly to include Jordan as well, should the citizens of two – or three – independent states decide freely, after some years of peaceful coexistence in neighbouring entities, that this is what they want.)
Following years of agonized internal debate, the PLO eventually caught up with reality, grasped the nettle and adopted the two-state proposal at its momentous Algiers congress in 1988. The immensity of this move should not be underestimated. It was a hard pill to swallow –and still today not everyone has fully digested it – as it meant lowering Palestinian sights from the hitherto immutable demand for 100 per cent of the land and accepting a scaled-down state on the remaining 22 per cent, comprising the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as the capital. The implicit PLO recognition of Israel (and, by extension, West Jerusalem as its capital) became explicit and official five years later under the Oslo accords.
This was the Palestinians’ once-and-for-all grand historical compromise – although subsequently they went further still in agreeing in principle to equitable land exchanges, provided that the 78:22 ratio was observed and that Jerusalem would be the shared capital.
While not the sole cause of breakdown, the evident belief of many Israeli leaders that a further deal may be cut over the residual 22 per cent – what Israel’s government, uniquely, calls the ‘disputed’ territories – has been at the heart of the collapse of most peace plans to date. Any future peace initiative will suffer the same fate – regardless of which Palestinian faction or leader is in the driving seat – unless Israel and its supporters are, similarly, ready to grasp the decisive nettle.
Failing this, there is no prospect of Israel achieving a durable peace with its neighbours and being accepted into the changing region. Its government claims that it is retaliating against the Palestinians for alleged misdemeanours by further expanding its settlement programme, but it is Israel and its people who will ultimately pay the higher price. The occupation, now in its 46th year, may be brutalizing the Palestinians – all occupations eventually become brutal – but it is also choking Israel and threatening consequential damage to Jewish communities around the world.
The global reputation of the Jewish state has recently plunged new depths, as attested to by the overwhelming vote at the UN General Assembly on 29 November 2012 which granted Palestine non-member observer status in the face of robust opposition of the Israeli government. Not that the resolution was ‘anti-Israel’ at all: it repeatedly affirmed support for “the two-state solution of an independent, sovereign, democratic, viable and contiguous State of Palestine living side by side with Israel in peace and security on the basis of the pre-1967 borders”.
Of 188 voting states, only eight voted with Israel against the resolution, four of which were Nauru, Palau, the Marshall Islands and Micronesia! In opposing the motion, the US contradicted its own long-standing positions, a stance that is unlikely to be sustainable forever. Of the 27 EU states, only the Czech Republic voted on Israel’s side. (The other two stalwarts were Canada and Panama.) As if this near isolation were not enough, the Israeli government’s defiantly punitive response to the vote has enraged its few remaining key allies, notably the US, Canada and Germany (abstained). It is almost as if Israel’s present leaders are asking for their country to be ostracized. Their predecessors – the architects of the estimable Israeli Declaration of Independence – are surely turning in their graves.
The writing is screaming on the wall. It has been plain for many years that Israel’s standing will go on deteriorating and the boycott movement will gather pace for as long as Israel continues to be an occupying power, depriving the Palestinians from exercising the self-determination that Israelis have long enjoyed. This is the key issue. Important domestic causes to Jews around the world – for which allies are often vital – are likely to suffer too for as long as those who speak in their name identify uncritically with policies widely regarded as unjust and belligerent, and that would never be tolerated by the custodians of Jewish values if enacted by any other country.
Some of Israel’s supporters may prefer to attribute the country’s problems to other matters or they may dismiss current trends as deriving from anti-Israel or antisemitic prejudice on the part of almost everyone everywhere, including the mass media, the trade unions, the universities, human rights groups and just about the entire NGO sector.
But denial is not an answer. The state of Israel was conceived as a way of normalizing relations between Jews and all other peoples. Without a change of direction, there is a danger that its policies and actions might normalize anti-Jewish sentiment instead.
There will come a time, not far off, when it really will be too late to negotiate a peaceful two-state settlement through mutual agreement. This might be because, in exasperation, Palestinians get the message that increasingly hard-line Israeli governments are not actually interested in anything other than their effective capitulation, or it might be because Israel finally builds the long-planned settlement in the area known as E1 that would virtually cut off the northern and southern parts of the West Bank from each other and isolate them from East Jerusalem.
While this would probably signal the definitive end of a peace process, it does not mean it would be the end of the two-state idea. In the absence of a plausible alternative, it will endure, although its nature and means of delivery may well change. The Israeli-Palestinian status quo is inherently unstable. It could fall apart at any time. With genuine intent and political will, Israel’s celebrated ingenuity could doubtless find a way to end its occupation of Palestinian territory swiftly without jeopardizing its own legitimate security. Failing this, the perils of perpetual conflict loom, as does the prospect of a resilient Palestinian separatist movement that could grow into a full-blown insurrection, potentially marked by violence and counter-violence, atrocity and counter-atrocity. Eventually, it might culminate in the emergence of a bedraggled Palestinian state alongside an isolated and widely despised Jewish state. The ‘two-state solution’ will have come about, but by disaster not design.
The future does not have to unravel this way. It all depends on the choices human beings make. May the decision-makers be endowed with wisdom and foresight so that, a further forty years from now, the relationship between Israel and its neighbours will no longer be defined by bitterness and enmity. If you will it, as someone famously said, it is no dream.
Footnote: We asked Dr Klug for a brief comment on Khaled Meshaal’s recent speech in Gaza, reasserting the claim by Hamas for the whole of pre-1948 Palestine. Hamas celebrates 25 years with rocket and vow to gain all Israeli land. He replied:
“There is a lot of rhetoric around and many contradictory statements are made, a lot of them – caught up in the emotion of the moment – foolish and
not serious, even if deeply felt (I wish the same could be said for some of the statements emanating from leading figures in Israel). When all is said
and done, if the Palestinians were faced with an authentic offer of their own viable state based broadly on the pre-June 1967 borders, there is little
doubt that they would jump at the opportunity, and factions that demanded the moon would soon find themselves sidelined. Mashaal’s hyperbole is, if
anything, a reason to make the firm offer, not to retreat from it. In the absence of an acceptable alternative, pressure will indeed continue to build
up in Palestinian circles for the whole moon.”
* UN Security Council resolution, passed unanimously, stated, in part,
“Emphasizing the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every State in the area can live in security,
1. Affirms that the fulfillment of Charter principles requires the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East which should include the application of both the following principles:
(i) Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict;
(ii) Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force;
2. Affirms further the necessity
(a) For guaranteeing freedom of navigation through international waterways in the area;
(b) For achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem;
(c) For guaranteeing the territorial inviolability and political independence of every State in the area, through measures including the establishment of demilitarized zones;
3. Requests the Secretary-General to designate a Special Representative to proceed to the Middle East to establish and maintain contacts with the States concerned in order to promote agreement and assist efforts to achieve a peaceful and accepted settlement in accordance with the provisions and principles in this resolution;”
By MJ Rosenberg, JPost
First published April 14, 2008
The PLO believes in Israel’s right to the majority of Palestine.
It is amazing that right-wing Israelis and their American enablers have managed to convince even a single person that West Bank settlements are not at the root of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Think about it. The conflict is about who will ultimately control the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. It is no longer about Israel’s right to the 78 percent of historic Palestine that is pre-’67 Israel; the PLO conceded Israel’s right to statehood in that land 20 years ago and has never backed away from that concession.
It is no longer about whether the Palestinians are entitled to a state because Israel conceded that the Palestinians have that right 15 years ago and have never backed away from that concession. It is not about each people’s right to live in security (free from terrorism and other military threats) because the two sides have agreed to that principle a half-dozen times since the Oslo agreement was signed. No, the conflict is about who will control the occupied territories. A final status deal must include full security for Israel in exchange for a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, and everyone knows it.
Even Khaled Mashal, the Syria-based political chief of Hamas, said this week that “Palestinians have adopted a joint position regarding the establishment of a Palestinian state within the borders of 1967.” The Arab Initiative (the Saudi-sponsored plan endorsed by every Arab country) not only recognizes Israel’s right to the 78 percent of Palestine that is Israel but pledges full recognition and normalization of relations if Palestinians are permitted to establish a state in the other 22 percent.
Nevertheless, successive Israeli governments have expanded settlements with truly reckless abandon. And not just Likud governments either. In fact, there has been little difference in settlement policy no matter which party is in power. And now Ehud Olmert’s Kadima is continuing the folly by expanding settlements while simultaneously pledging to achieve a peace deal with the Palestinians. IT WON’T happen. The negotiations center on the final disposition of the West Bank and Gaza. How then can Israelis be said to be negotiating in good faith while they are simultaneously taking the land? That is like negotiating about the price of a home you want to purchase while your family, your furniture, and your dog are moving in. There will be no peace if the settlements remain in place and everyone knows it. Of course, under any agreement, Jews should be allowed to live in the West Bank exactly as Arabs live in Israel, fully protected but under the laws of the Palestinian governing authority and under its flag. But there can and will be no peace with Israeli settlements smack dab in the middle of the Palestinian state just as Israelis would never tolerate autonomous Palestinian colonies in the midst of Israel. The fact is that a settlement is more than just a bunch of houses. One Israeli anti-settlements activist puts it like this: “A settlement is never just a fortified group of red-roofed villas on the top of an occupied hill…. A settlements also means Israeli soldiers…. It means checkpoints, and roads connecting it with other settlements and with Israel itself. A road is not just land: it is an ever growing ‘security belt’ on both sides of it, belts of Palestinian fields and buildings swept by Israeli bulldozers. . . . The function of those ever-expanding by-pass roads is not only to serve the settlers but to cut off Palestinian towns and villages from one another, to cantonize the territories and split the Palestinians into minimal separate units …” Without the settlements, there would be no need for over 500 checkpoints and roadblocks, most of which do not guard entry into Israel but prevent the movement of Palestinians within the West Bank. The settlers do not want to think about the local Palestinians, let alone see them. Between the checkpoints and the bypass highways, settlers can travel from home to job to soccer practice to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv without encountering an Arab. The Arabs on the other hand can barely get between their homes and their jobs without facing humiliating obstacles. Then there are places like Hebron in which the army is deployed to defend a tiny population of settler extremists prone to torment local Palestinian kids. Last time I was there I got to see a terrorized population facing incessant abuse from extremists. (One Israeli government official described the Hebron settlers last week as “the worst of the worst.”) Not only that, young Israeli soldiers – hating every minute of their service in Hebron – are themselves continually abused by settlers who think the soldiers should be doing their bidding rather than protecting the local population from them. The irony is that few Israelis have any use for the settlers. Unfortunately, most Israelis do not have a say in the matter. The settlers are organized into powerful lobbies that threaten to bring down any government that defies them. That is why Prime Minister Olmert goes along with settlement expansion. He’d rather be prime minister than be right, which makes him no different than most political leaders. It’s all politics. BUT THIS tyranny of the minority cannot be sustained. Recent polls show that Israelis are utterly cynical about their government. Offered a choice for the next prime minister most choose “none of the above.” Compare Israel in 2008 to the United States and you see Americans determined to achieve “change” and Israelis resigned to the idea that change just isn’t going to happen. This is a pretty dismal place for Israel to be in for its 60th anniversary. No wonder the Israeli media reports that there is so little excitement about the upcoming celebrations. People just can’t get excited about an anniversary when the general expectation is that the future is going to be far less glorious than the past.
This is tragic. The creation of Israel and its success as the sanctuary for the Jewish people is worthy of tremendous celebration. Sixty-five years after a 24-year-old Jewish hero, Mordechai Anilevicz, led a hopeless uprising against the Nazis in occupied Warsaw, Israel is the fourth strongest military power in the world. It successfully defends itself and, in a real sense, defends Jews everywhere. Modern Hebrew, spoken by not a single person in 1880, is now spoken by millions of Israeli Jews, Palestinians, and “guest workers” from places like Romania and Thailand. Almost seven million Israelis live good, safe lives in a dynamic modern state.
How utterly insane to jeopardize this triumph because politicians in Jerusalem are intimidated by fringe elements – not to mention the politicians here who are even more intimidated by the status quo lobby in Washington, DC. Israel deserves so much more than that. Stop jeopardizing everything, stop killing the dream for the sake of a few fanatics.
The writer is the director of Israel Policy Forum’s Washington Policy Center.