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Posts

One state or two states ?

Arthur Goodman, Jun 2015

(A) One state or two ?

Firstly, how has the debate about one state or two developed ? For years, there was a vagueness in international discourse about solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Basically, the Palestinians, as a people with rights, were almost ignored. But since Security Council Resolution 242 following the 1967 war, the international community has legitimised the “two-state” solution based on the 4th June1967 borders, i.e. Israel is for Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (oPt) (East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza) are for the Palestinians. That would give 78% of Mandate Palestine to Israel and 22% to the Palestinians.

The PLO formally accepted this in its 1988 Declaration of Independence. After Hamas won the Palestinian elections in 2006, its leaders regularly offered to make the same historic compromise. Sometimes they offered to accept Israel within the 1967 borders providing Israel accepted a Palestinian state outside those borders, and sometimes they offered a long-term truce to culminate in a Palestinian referendum on a final agreement.

However, as the result of the continual illegal Israeli expansion into the oPt, and the consequent changes on the ground, some people have argued for a few years that Israel has itself made two states impossible, so therefore there must be a single, democratic state between the Mediterranean and the River Jordan, in which Jews and Palestinians would be equal citizens.

Barriers to two states

The changes on the ground are indeed formidable. There are now nearly 600,000 Israeli settlers, most in the big economic settlements near the Green Line, while a large minority are in the more ideological settlements further east, including the Jordan Valley. Settlements have been placed strategically to break up the contiguity of Palestinian territory both within the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and between them, and to control water resources. Israeli checkpoints and Israeli-only roads make Palestinian travel extremely slow and uncertain throughout the West Bank. This transport difficulty inhibits economic activity.

Successive Israeli governments, while rhetorically accepting the goal of two states, continually refused to negotiate final status issues or to say what borders they will accept, much less whether they will accept the internationally legitimate 78%-22% split of the land. Ehud Olmert’s government was the exception. His 2008 negotiations were genuine, although Israel negotiated very hard – as it always does. Netanyahu returned to the old intransigence with a vengeance, despite paying lip-service to two states. He publicly refused to negotiate on the 78% – 22% basis, to halt settlement expansion, to negotiate about refugee rights, or to)negotiate about East Jerusalem. That was the reason for the failure of the Kerry negotiations. He obviously intends to continue on that road in his current government.

Barriers to a single state

Now, however, let’s look at the barriers to a single state. Firstly, the overwhelming and dominant Zionist philosophy, even before Zionist settlement began in 1882, has always been to create an exclusively Jewish state. As a theory, the philosophy was justified in view of the hundreds of years of European anti-Semitism. The immediate triggers were the three waves of pogroms in Russia between 1882 and 1920, each worse than the last. Thousands were killed.

However, as a practical programme in Palestine, where the Palestinians comprised some 94% of the population when Zionist settlement began, it became the first of the many moral ambiguities of Zionism. Such a philosophy, and the people it attracts, creates a self-reinforcing ruthlessness. The Zionist leaders were absolutely unwilling to contemplate a bi-national state. By the 1930s they all realised, and accepted, that they would have to fight the indigenous Palestinians for control of the land.

Secondly, the residue of the Holocaust weighs heavily on many Jews, especially in Israel. If you were a European Jew living at that time, you might just be so traumatised that you could not bear to live in a country where Jews were not the majority. Your children might well be have internalised your fears. But, as before, there was another side to the coin. Most displaced Jews wanted to go to North America, or the White British Commonwealth, or South America – not to Palestine. The reason that about 1million went to Palestine is that Western governments didn’t want to take many.

Thirdly, the great crime that Zionists committed in the 1947-49 war that created Israel has left a residue of denial and guilt among Israeli Jews. There is a fear of political pressure from the Palestinian citizens who, if a big proportion of the refugees were to return, would be equal or greater in number to the Jewish Israelis. They could then force the historical issue into the open, or more specifically mount legal campaigns to take back some of the land that Israel confiscated.

The crime was that the Zionist forces expelled 700,000 – 750,000 Palestinians – 90ish% of the Palestinians in the 78% of Palestine that became Israel. Roughly half were directly expelled at gun point, sometimes after massacres, and half fled in fear. That transformed a small Palestinian majority into a large Jewish majority. More than 500 villages were destroyed so there would be nothing to go back to. Those Palestinians, their children and grandchildren, are today’s refugees. The Palestinian citizens of Israel, now comprising about 20% of the Israeli population, are those that were not expelled, their children and grandchildren.

It has to be said that there were also some massacres by Palestinians. What would have happened if they had won is unknown.

Conclusion

My conclusion from all this is to agree with the large majority of analysts and political actors, both Israeli and Palestinian, that the “two state” solution is the only practical possibility. The barriers are physical, and can be changed physically. The Israeli-only roads can be made into normal roads by a stroke of the pen, checkpoints and earth barriers can be removed, and access roads to Palestinian villages can be laid where necessary. Palestinians, being in control of their own land, will control the water usage.

Most important, a land swap can allow most of the built-up areas of the big economic settlements to become part of Israel, while an equal amount and quality of land in Israel is transferred to Palestine. That will leave some 20% of the settlers to be moved. It’s a daunting task, not least because of hard-line, ideological settler opposition, but it is possible with compensation and determination on the part of an Israeli government. There is a precedent in the removal of the settlers from Gaza and a small part of the West Bank. The task of moving all 600,00 or so settlers would be incomparably harder.

The possibility of the 78%-22% territorial solution by land swaps has not been destroyed by settlement expansion, most of which has been in the big settlements near the Green Line. The difference between the built-up areas of the big settlements and the much bigger, self-declared municipal areas is the key. Only the built-up areas have to be swapped. The remaining parts of those settlements and the smaller settlement eastwards can be evacuated. The Olmert negotiations in 2008 were based on this concept.  The paper, “Imagining the Borders”, produced by David Makovsky in 2011, delineates the options.

Conversely, the barriers to a single state are those of Zionist philosophy and psychology, and are deep in the Israeli psyche. Creating or sliding into a single state would eliminate the current overwhelming Jewish majority. Counting the Palestinian citizens of Israel, the Palestinians in “annexed” East Jerusalem (only Israeli “residents” now), all West Bank & Gaza Palestinians, and all UNWRA-registered Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Syria & Lebanon, the Palestinians would become 60% of the enlarged state. Even leaving out, say, half the refugees in the surrounding three countries, Palestinians would still be some 50% of the population.

Israel would no longer have a Jewish majority. The Jewish population could only dominate by creating overt apartheid. That is the strategy, spoken or unspoken, of the one-state proponents, i.e. force Israel to create overt apartheid, which would lead to an ultimately successful international, anti-apartheid campaign. There is, however, a fatal flaw in this strategy. The Israeli leaders are not stupid. They know how powerful an anti-apartheid campaign could be if they created overt apartheid, so they will not get themselves into the position of having to do it. Conversely, put under enough pressure, they would be prepared to give up the oPt in order to secure the current Israel, with its overwhelming Jewish majority.

(B) Specific reasons why two states is the pragmatic option

There are also a number of specific political dynamics which explain why two states is the only pragmatic option.

(1) The legal legitimacy of the Palestinian claim for their own state, based on the 1967 borders, is beyond doubt. Abandoning this claim would be to abandon one of the Palestinians’ strongest arguments.

(2) The Palestinian Liberation Organisation’s strategy of gaining recognition in international bodies has gained momentum. The three most important steps have been upgrading its status  in the United Nations to Observer State, based on the 1967 borders, by an overwhelming majority vote in the General Assembly; joining the International Criminal Court; and laying the groundwork for bringing cases against Israel for settlement expansion and disproportionate military actions. 134 states now recognise the Palestinian state, and the parliaments of several European countries have voted for recognition. All this is necessarily based on the claim for a separate state.

(3) Hamas joined Fatah in forming a Unity Government to pursue the PLO strategy. Tensions between the two parties, as well as pressure from Israel and the US, have prevented the government from functioning fully, but the policy unity remains.

(4) The international community, including particularly the European Union, which could apply meaningful pressure on Israel, firmly support two states based on the 1967 borders in accordance with United Nations resolutions, international law and what the PLO is claiming. European Union states will not apply pressure on Israel to accept a single state between the river and the sea. Lobbying them to do so would be perverse. It would be asking them to pressure Israel to accept the solution that it will fight hardest against, that the Palestinians are not claiming, that the large Palestinian majority consistently say they don’t want, and for which there is no international legal support.

(5) The balance of opinion among Palestinians in the oPt has been consistently against the one-state solution since surveys started in 2000. The opposition has ranged between 60%-70% for the whole period, and started rising above this range after the last Gaza attack. That is the most consistent finding in the whole series of surveys. There have also been fluctuating majorities, smaller but still substantial, in favour of the two-state principle. Palestinian civil society groups overwhelmingly support the two-state concept. It is noteworthy that the highest opposition to the one-state solution is in Gaza, which has roughly twice the proportion of refugees in its population as the West Bank and has borne the brunt of Israeli aggression.

One can adduce two reasons for the opposition to the one-state solution. Firstly, the Palestinians understand Jewish Israelis’ unwillingness to lose their overwhelming Jewish majority. Having suffered occupation for many, many years, they have made the hard decision to try for the more achievable goal rather than the ideal. Secondly, one state might actually not be the ideal for them. They might just prefer their own state to having to share with Jewish Israelis after the way Israel has treated them over the years. They may also think they would inevitably be second-class citizens in a single state. Many Palestinians may doubt they will ever get their own state, but that is another matter.

(6) The balance of opinion among Jewish Israelis has also been consistently against the one-state solution since surveys started in 2000, and in fact has also ranged between 60%-70% against for the whole period. There have also been smaller fluctuating majorities in favour of the two-state principle. As I said earlier, the most basic political psychology of the Jewish Israeli public is to maintain the overwhelming Jewish majority in Israel. It unites right, centre and left in Jewish Israel. It will not change just because some human rights activists and political theorists say it should.

(7) It would be a catastrophic miscalculation for the Palestinian leadership to drop its two-state demand and claim a single state instead. All parts of the Israeli political spectrum (except the far left) would unite against it, and European support would almost certainly be forfeited.. The likely Israeli response would be to say to the international community, “See, we told you we had no negotiating partner, so we will now resolve the issue ourselves.”

They would activate Naftali Bennett’s Area C annexation plan. Area C contains all the settlements and comprises about 60% of the West Bank. The plan is to shrink Area C to exclude the Palestinian villages that straddle the boundaries with areas A and B, annex the remainder of Area C and offer Israeli citizenship to the 70,000 or so Palestinians living there. The explicit purpose of the plan is to take the maximum land with the minimum Palestinians and to forestall an effective anti-apartheid campaign. It would increase the Palestinian minority in Israel by only 1%, which would be a tiny price for Jewish Israel to pay.

(8) The refusal of the previous Netanyahu government to negotiate meaningfully to end the occupation was not caused by the fact that the Palestinians were demanding their own state. To believe that, one would have to believe that Netanyahu would have been more forthcoming if they had been demanding a single democratic state. That is simply fatuous. Netanyahu’s refusal to negotiate meaningfully was due to  the fact that neither the US nor the EU was ready to apply meaningful pressure on Israel. The remedy is for them to apply the economic and diplomatic leverage they have available.

(9) An important group in the centre-left of Israeli politics has publicly split away from the right wing’s refusal to negotiate meaningfully. They are a group of former Israeli senior diplomats, security officials and politicians which has produced a 1,200 signature petition arguing that European governments should recognise the Palestinian state now, regardless of the Israeli government’s wishes, in order to create the conditions in which the Israeli government will have to negotiate meaningfully to accept the Palestinian state. They do this because they realise it is in Israel’s long-term interest. They are campaigning actively in Europe. They were lobbying the British and Scottish Parliaments in support of their respective recognition resolutions at the same time we in JFJFP were lobbying them.

Basically, two-states is the least impossible solution. It will not change in this generation, maybe not in next either. I’m not justifying, just explaining.

 

 

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