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Why pursue the two-state solution when it is clearly a waste of time?

December 24, 2018 at 12:08 pm

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (L) meets Jordanian King Abdullah II (R) during his official visit in Amman, Jordan on December 18, 2018. ( Thaer Ghanaim / Palestinian Presidency / Handout – Anadolu Agency )

Jordan’s King Abdullah II met the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas last Tuesday and reiterated the importance of solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the basis of the two-state solution. At the same time, the Jordanian monarch slammed Israel’s ongoing settlement construction in the occupied West Bank as “an obstacle ahead of achieving just and lasting peace based on the two-state solution.”

On the same day, eight European states which are currently members of the UN Security Council sent a message to US President Donald Trump, emphasising that the two-state solution is the only viable way to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “The EU is truly convinced that the achievement of a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as the capital of both states… ends the occupation and resolves all final status issues… This is the only viable and realistic way to end the conflict and achieve just and lasting peace.”

When America’s draft resolution that condemned the Palestinian resistance fell short of achieving the two-thirds majority required to be adopted by the UN General Assembly earlier this month, the representatives of several countries which voted against the draft, including Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, stressed that what should have been done was to stress the importance of dealing with the root causes of the conflict based on the two-state solution. Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the UN, Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, said that the US resolution would “undermine the two-state solution which we aspire to.”

In 2011, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a joint session of the US Congress, “I publicly commit to a solution of two states for two peoples: A Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state. I am willing to make painful compromises to achieve this historic peace. As the leader of Israel, it is my responsibility to lead my people to peace.”

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Even earlier, in 2003, the PA and PLO President Mahmoud Abbas stated that the Palestinian goal was to achieve a solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on the two-state solution. “Our goal is two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security,” he affirmed.

Although US President Donald Trump said at the beginning of his term of office that he did not support the two-state solution, he confirmed in September that, “I like a two-state solution. That’s what I think works best.”

All of the above statements are on public record and confirm the positions of the major players in the Israel-Palestine issue. However, if the two-state solution is so clearly the preferred solution for the main protagonists, then why it has not materialised?

This requires some context and scrutiny.

Historical background

Britain had the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine with effect from 29 September 1923 as part of the post-World War One break-up of the Ottoman Empire. British Foreign Secretary Lord Arthur Balfour had declared in 1917 that, “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.” The terms of the so-called Balfour Declaration were included in the Mandate, which pushed ahead with the first part while ignoring the conditional clause in the second part.

Thus, the British authorities in Mandate Palestine encouraged Jewish migration, leading to growing anger and resentment on the part of the indigenous Palestinians, Christians and Muslims alike, as the Jewish population grew. In 1936, the British government appointed a Royal Commission of Inquiry under Lord William Peel to investigate the roots of the communal clashes in Palestine. The Peel Commission issued its report in July 1937, stating that the British mandate “was unworkable because Jewish and Arab objectives in Palestine were incompatible.” It proposed that Palestine be partitioned into three zones: an Arab state, a Jewish state and a neutral territory containing the holy places. The British government accepted the report initially, but then ignored it.

In 1947, the nascent United Nations resolved to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states and to internationalise Jerusalem. By then, Jews made up 31 per cent of the population; they somewhat reluctantly accepted 56 per cent of the area of historic Palestine allocated by the UN Partition Plan for their proposed state. The Palestinians, however, completely rejected the plan because it gave away land owned by Palestinian Arabs to Jewish immigrants, and they recognised that it was intended to establish a colonial Jewish state in their land.

Balfour Declaration - [Twitter]

Balfour Declaration – [Twitter]

In the face of increasing “Jewish terrorism” the British cut short the Mandate and abandoned Palestine to its fate in the middle of May, 1948. When the State of Israel was declared on 15 May, what had happened was that the British basically handed over Palestine to the Jews. Within a year, Israel had joined the UN as a full member, despite not fulfilling the conditions of its membership, namely the return of the Palestinian refugees who had been driven out of the homes by Zionist terror gangs. In the fighting that ensued, Israel took control of 78 per cent of historic Palestine.

Twenty years passed, and in June 1967, the Israeli occupation forces launched the Six Day War and occupied the rest of Palestine by taking the Gaza Strip from Egyptian administration, and the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan. Israel started to build illegal settlements on the newly-occupied territories and moved settlers there in contravention of international law. Nevertheless, in 1993 the Oslo Peace Accords were signed which stipulated that the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) would recognise the right of the occupation to have the state of Israel on 78 per cent of Palestine in return for the new Palestinian Authority to govern parts of the territories occupied in 1967. The accords did not mention two states, although that was the implied meaning. To date, though, there is no independent State of Palestine.

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In 2002, the International Middle East Quartet of the UN, US, EU and Russia was established to facilitate the peace process for “final status negotiations”. The Quartet proposed a peace plan — the Roadmap — which was endorsed by UN Security Council resolution 1515 (2003). It called for a “three-phased performance-based strategy to move the peace process towards a final resolution of the conflict.” It was based on setting up an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip alongside Israel in 2005 on condition that the Palestinians cease fighting the Israeli occupation and Israel stops settlement activity in occupied Palestinian lands. The Roadmap fizzled out; the Palestinians still had no state; and the peace process was put on hold.

Actions on the ground

When the Peel Commission proposed the creation of Arab and Jewish states in Palestine and the British Mandate government accepted its recommendation, it did not take any action on the ground to turn the plan into reality. Instead, the British continued to allow Jewish immigration and facilitated the training of Jewish militias, some of whose members served in the British Army during World War Two and went on to form the Haganah. This was the forerunner of the Israel Defence Forces.

From 1936 to 1939, the Palestinians rose against the Mandate authorities in what is known as the Arab Revolt. Palestinian historian Rashid Al-Khalidi said that 1,600 Palestinians were killed in 1938 and the following year some 5,000 were killed, with 10,000 wounded. Altogether, 5,679 were imprisoned. “The suffering was considerable in an Arab population of about a million: Over ten per cent of the adult male population was killed, wounded, imprisoned or exiled,” he explained.

What has since been described as “ethnic cleansing” was carried out against the indigenous Palestinian population in the run up to and after the declaration of independence by the State of Israel. The UN had not tasked any international forces to enforce the Partition Plan, nor, it seems, has any international body ever taken issue with the fact that while Israel takes its international legitimacy from the partition resolution, the proposed status of Jerusalem as an internationalised entity has been totally ignored. Israel’s membership of the UN was ratified despite its obvious (and ongoing) contempt for the UN Charter and the violations of international law inflicted on the Palestinians.

Such cavalier disregard for international laws and conventions has seen Israel ignore its commitments under Oslo; it has continued to expand and build illegal settlements on the land nominally controlled by the Palestinian Authority and since earmarked for the State of Palestine. So much so, in fact, that much less than the 22 per cent accepted by the PLO in 1993 will be available for “Palestine” if such a state ever materialises. The PA, meanwhile, has been fulfilling its role as a tool of the Israeli occupation authorities, with its supposed “Palestinian” security agencies existing purely to augment their Israeli counterparts in the fight against resistance to Israel’s occupation.

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Although the Quartet quite clearly had the political influence to enforce the terms of the Oslo Accords and bring about a two-state solution, its members have not done so. The plan was, in the eyes of many Palestinians, meant solely to buy Israel more time to establish its colonial presence across all of occupied Palestine. US President George W Bush gave the game away in 2004 when he said that it was “unrealistic” to expect Israel to withdraw from the West Bank “in light of new realities on the ground.” The settlements had done their job; the Roadmap went into the dustbin and the peace process died. Israel had effectively gained more territory and the Palestinians had a “Palestinian Authority” with no authority and little else. Now, neither the international community nor the Israeli occupation is giving the Palestinian cause any consideration whatsoever; the “peace process”, such as it is, is a fig leaf while Israel does what it wants.

Leaders’ comments

The two-state solution was never meant to happen, and it never will happen, and this is no accident; it has been the intention of the Zionists from the very beginning to take all of historic Palestine. Their public announcements do not convey their intentions. They opposed the two states proposed by the Peel Commission “because it meant giving up a Jewish state in the whole of Palestine.” Nevertheless, the mainstream Zionist leadership, including “Chaim Weizmann, Moshe Sharett and David Ben-Gurion, the World Zionist Congress” agreed publically, while maintaining very different views behind the scenes: “Ben-Gurion, for example, wrote in a letter to his son in 1937, ‘The Arabs will have to go, but one needs an opportune moment for making it happen, such as a war’.”

The same thing happened with the UN Partition Plan. The Zionist leadership celebrated the resolution not because it would have ended a crisis, but because it “legitimised” a Jewish state in a unique UN vote that might never be repeated. “Were the same vote held today,” wrote Israeli historian Benny Morris later, “the 193 General Assembly members would likely vote, perhaps overwhelmingly, against Jewish statehood.” The Zionists had plans in place to take more of the 54 per cent of Palestine allocated by the UN for the Jewish state, by force if necessary. Massacres and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian population were the methods approved by the founders of the State of Israel to consolidate their grip on the land of Palestine.

According to Morris, “The state [of Israel] would have arisen, in 1948 or a year or two later, whatever the UN had decided or failed to decide in November 1947. It arose because the Yishuv [the body of Jewish settlers in Palestine] had, for decades, prepared itself, psychologically and institutionally, for that day, because it had achieved a critical developmental and demographic mass that was — and proved to be — sufficient to establish a Jewish state.”

An elderly Palestinian and a child during the Nakba [Hanini/Wikipedia]

An elderly Palestinian and a child can be seen during the Nakba [Hanini/Wikipedia]

The latest proposal for a two-state solution was initiated in 2002 and is now more or less dead in the water. Neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians accept it. Despite his earlier claims, Benjamin Netanyahu has done nothing to implement it. Indeed, he has done all in his power to ensure that it will never happen.

For example, although the Israeli Prime Minister announced during his Bar Ilan foreign security speech in 2009 that he would accept a Palestinian state side by side with Israel, he has always imposed ever more and increasingly unrealistic conditions on such a state coming into being. “No army, no control of air space,” he told the US Congress in 2011. “Israel must govern its own fate and security. I told President Obama in Washington, if we get a guarantee of demilitarisation, and if the Palestinians recognise Israel as the Jewish state, we are ready to agree to a real peace agreement, a demilitarised Palestinian state side by side with the Jewish state.”

Netanyahu will not withdraw from wide areas of the occupied Palestinian territories, where those who proposed the two-state solution were intent on creating the Palestinian state. “Israel will not relinquish security control [a euphemism for the occupation] west of Jordan. This will not happen so long as I am prime minister and I think the Americans understand that,” he told Haaretz. Nor will he concede an inch of occupied Jerusalem. “Whenever we discuss a permanent arrangement, Israel needs defensible borders with Jerusalem remaining the united capital of Israel,” he insisted.

During his 2015 election campaign, Netanyahu said clearly that he would never allow the creation of a Palestinian state. The New York Times reported him saying in an interview with the Israeli news website NRG the day before the poll that a Palestinian state would not be created if he remained prime minister. Early this year, Netanyahu reiterated his view and said that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian will never end as long as he is the leader of Israel. Surely, the concept of an “independent” State of Palestine is meaningless if it is expected to cede control of its airspace and borders in advance, and agree to have no army to protect itself.

What’s more, just last week Netanyahu pledged that he would legalise all illegally built settlements in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem; in any case, he continues to expand them. Cabinet minister Israel Katz told Jewish settlers last week that Israel would double their number by the year 2030. “This place [the West Bank] is the heart of our homeland,” Netanyahu tweeted. He was dismissive about Palestinians who attacked Israeli troops in the occupied territory: “They are thinking of uprooting us from our land, but they will not succeed.” The Israeli Prime Minister is not alone in his insistence; many Israeli officials — current and former — have voiced their opposition to a Palestinian state.

The Palestinian leadership in the PA, PLO and Fatah, meanwhile, have declared their commitment to the two-state solution on several occasions, but this is not the reality on the ground. In 2011, Fatah Foreign Relations Chief Nabil Shaath was very clear when he said: “The story of ‘two-states for two peoples’ means that there will be a Jewish people over there and a Palestinian people here. We will never accept this… We will never agree to a clause preventing the Palestinian refugees from returning to their country.” The refugees’ right of return remains a major sticking point, despite its legitimacy in international law.

If Fatah — which has relinquished all forms of resistance against Israel and has instead become the Israeli hand which deters Palestinians from opposing the occupation — does not believe in the two-state solution, what about the other Palestinian factions? Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Democratic and Popular Fronts for the Liberation of Palestine, the Popular Resistance Committees, Al-Ahrar Movement and Al-Mujahidin Brigades are all committed to the liberation of all of the occupied lands. The importance of these groups should not be downplayed. Hamas alone won an overwhelming majority on the last occasion that a free and fair Palestinian election was held in 2006, and many observers believe that if an election is held tomorrow, then Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh will be the popular choice as Palestinian President.

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It is hard not to conclude that the international community has been wasting time and is not really serious about helping the Palestinians to create their state or protecting them from ongoing Israeli colonial and military aggression. At times it has seemed as if the members of the Middle East Quartet, for example, have been colluding with Israel in its occupation and colonisation of Palestine. The pressure has always been placed on the Palestinians — the people under occupation, remember — to make concessions to their occupiers. Bizarrely, they are even required to ensure the security of the occupying state, and face being denounced as “terrorists” if they do otherwise. When it is obvious to all with a mind to think and eyes to see that Israel and its leaders and supporters around the world have no intention of allowing a Palestinian state to exist, why does the international community keep insisting that the “two-state solution” is the panacea for the Israel-Palestine issue?

The late Edward Said, a prominent Palestinian academic, recognised this fallacy early on, as did most thinking Palestinians. The purpose of the peace proposals proposed for, and imposed upon, the Palestinians has been to project nuclear-armed, colonialist Israel as a “peace-loving” state. The reality is that it is anything but, as its frequent military offensives against the Palestinians and its neighbours, as well as the military occupation and colonial expansionism, attest.

How long will this state of affairs last? Israeli columnist Shlomo Avineri put himself in the shoes of the Palestinians and has never thought of a two-state solution: “This is not a conflict between two national movements but a conflict between one national movement (the Palestinian) and a colonial and imperialistic [sic] entity (Israel). According to this view, Israel will end like all colonial phenomena — it will perish and disappear.” The end cannot come soon enough for peace and justice in the Middle East.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.