Jews for Justice for Palestinians was formed in 2002, nine years after the Oslo Accords were agreed. The Oslo Accords set out a process which was expected to continue until there were final agreements between Israel and Palestinian representative which were broadly expected to culminate in a separate Palestinian state next to Israel, the two-state solution. After the failure of the 2000 Camp David talks, followed by the Second Intifada in 2000, the Oslo process stalled and the timetable for resolving final status issues and for progressive Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories was not met. Despite this, the two-state solution continued to have international support and some further attempts were made to restart a process towards it, notably the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative and the 2013-14 peace talks led by John Kerry, US Secretary of State in the second Obama administration. Neither of these efforts achieved real progress. However, under these circumstances and in the environment in which further international efforts to achieve two states has seemed possible, it made sense for JJP to continue to support this objective and make it the framework for its campaigning.
It is now twenty years since JJP’s foundation with the current situation in Israel-Palestine looking very far from the possible achievement of two states so it seems an appropriate time for the organisation to consider or reconsider its position towards the two-state solution. This paper is put forward to invite signatories and supporters to contribute to a debate about the future position of our organisation on this question and what should be the focus of campaigning efforts.
The fundamental questions to consider are what has prevented the implementation of the two-state solution and whether there is any realistic prospect of such blockages changing. This is both a question about why diplomatic efforts have failed and about how we assess the current Israel-Palestine situation.
While successive Israeli governments have blamed Palestinian leaders for failing to make concessions and failing to accept Israeli offers, most academic commentators have concluded that it has been the opposite, namely Israeli reluctance, that has been the operative factor. This was also the conclusion made public by John Kerry when he eventually ended his campaign. During successive negotiations, Israeli proposals were for limited and non-contiguous territories that could not constitute a fully independent state in control of its borders and did not include Jerusalem as a shared capital, making them unacceptable to Palestinian negotiators. Further, from the time of the first premiership of Benjamin Netanyahu, most of Israel’s leaders have set themselves against the establishment of a Palestinian state. This includes both the present coalition government’s Prime Minister and the Alternate Prime Minister.
Most significant, however, as a barrier to two states has been the relentless growth of Israeli settlements for Jews only in the West Bank, all illegal according to international law. This is the area that should be the fundamental basis of a Palestinian state. The settlements with their associated infrastructure developments, including segregated road systems, have not only grown hugely in number, they have manifested a strategic process of spreading a Jewish presence to locations throughout the area to facilitate its control. In the early stages of the settlement push in the 1980s, it was considered that 100,000 settlers would be a point of no return. Yet 2020 figures indicate more than 450,000 in the West Bank, a high proportion living outside the main settlement blocs (Peace Now website). In addition, there is an ongoing drive to force Palestinians out of certain East Jerusalem neighbourhoods and replace them with Jewish settlers.
Implicit in the pursuance of two-states has been the two regimes assumption, namely that Israel within its internationally agreed boundaries is a democracy quite distinct from governance of the lands occupied following the 1967 war. However, this is contradicted by evidence that de facto annexation of the West Bank has already largely taken place, by the fact that the Jewish settlers there have all the legal and social privileges of Israeli citizens while at the same time Palestinian citizens of Israel have second class status and rights. This picture of a single regime of control over the whole of Israel-Palestine in which Jews have the most rights and Palestinians are divided into four groups with inferior but varying rights – Palestinian citizens of Israel, Palestinian residents of annexed East Jerusalem, West Bank Palestinians and finally those worst off, the blockaded Gazan Palestinians – is the basis of a conclusion that a single state already exists. That this should be characterised as an apartheid state has long been argued by Palestinian thinkers but not otherwise much accepted. However, in the last fourteen months there has been a dramatic change with reports by the Jewish Israeli organisation B’tselem and internationally respected Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, all three of which firmly define Israel as matching international law definitions of apartheid.
There are no doubt people both in and outside Israel who sincerely believe that the two-state solution can and will be implemented. However, the overwhelming majority of analysts have long concluded that this has become impossible as a single regime if not a single state ‘from the river to the sea’ now exists.
In the recent review of JJP’s position three main strands of evidence have been considered. The first is a review of surveys questioning what Jewish Israelis and Palestinians in both Israel and the occupied territories, want. The second is the feasibility of a viable territory being released that could enable an autonomous Palestinian state to be established, involving among other things the ceding or evacuation of a substantial number of existing Israel settlements to this entity. The third is the attitude of international actors, in particular the two with the greatest potential influence on the situation, the US and the EU.
The conclusion from the survey evidence over the period 2015 to 2021 was that both Palestinians and Jewish Israelis expressed preference for two states over the one state options put to them. There has been some very recent evidence that Palestinian support for this has decreased, largely due to loss of confidence that two states is achievable, but this may not be maintained. The basic situation is that both publics having been won to support for two states during the Oslo process, Israeli policies have worked to stymie and prevent such a development. Though critics over the years have warned that two states is the only pathway which can maintain a state with a Jewish majority, the ideologically motivated desire to rule over a greater territory has led to the present situation of effective Israeli control over most of Mandatory Palestine with its significant Palestinian population which is being repressed through various mechanisms. The Palestinian Authority does indeed continue to call for two states but it is weak and discredited in the eyes of its own constituency by its active security co-ordination with Israeli forces while the current office holders have long lost their mandate through failure to hold elections for many years.
On the evacuation of settlers question there are differing judgements as to the political feasibility of carrying this out, given how difficult such efforts have been in the past, with particular reference to the Gaza disengagement. The numbers who would be affected have greatly increased while at the same time positions have hardened both in the settler community and in the general Jewish Israeli electorate. In addition, there is an economic element as the Gaza evacuees received large sums in compensation, a precedent which implies a huge potential disbursement. All these factors arguably make it very unlikely that a currently foreseeable Israeli government would contemplate such an evacuation.
Both the US and the EU could make a big difference to Israel’s policies and change the situation by applying political and/or economic pressure. This is especially true of the former with its huge financial and military support for Israel. However, there seems little prospect that either will do so soon. The current geopolitical situation and US domestic politics alike restrict its interest and capacity for radical change in its policy towards Israel. The foreign policy limitations inherent in the EU’s structure and the approach of Germany in particular inhibit any change from this source.
Things could be different in the longer term. There are signs of underlying changes in support for Israel among American Jews especially in younger people which could eventually affect US politics. More broadly there have been indications of growing international support for the Palestinian cause as manifested in demonstrations over the May 2021 violence, including in the UK. These suggest possible future shifts but have not so far had an impact on the policies of international actors. There is no current international impetus for renewed negotiations between Israel and Palestinian leaders.
In the meantime, support for the two-state solution is continually asserted by international actors, including the US and UK. Given that such assertions are not accompanied by actions or plans to make its fulfilment more likely, many commentators have considered such positions to simply provide shelter for Israel’s policy of solidifying its occupation and control of Palestinian territory. The two states solution has been discredited by lack of progress, Israel’s manifest hostility to an autonomous Palestinian state and international inaction.
The situation as analysed here begs the question of how JJP should define its position and focus its campaigning efforts. The poor image of the two state concept in the face of what is actually happening in Israel-Palestine makes adherence to it questionable. Such adherence assumes a symbolic meaning, connected with the position of governments which have no plans to disrupt Israel’s policies of entrenching the occupation and Gaza blockade
As an organisation we do not need to take a position on what ought to be the ultimate solution, on a one-state/two state debate which is being made outdated by facts on the ground. Rather, as well as opposing the illegal occupation, the emphasis should be on fighting the current situation of massive discrimination and human rights violations against Palestinians and the concomitant distress and misery caused by the apartheid state both inside and outside Israel proper. As currently, this should have two foci, first raising the awareness and consciousness of the UK Jewish community and second campaigning for our government and opposition parties to foreground and condemn Israel’s human rights violations and to support international efforts through the UN and the International Criminal Court to end them.
JJP signatories are invited to contribute views on the questions and issues discussed in this paper.