By Osama al-Sharif – Amman
Few weeks ago, the Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa sent a letter to U.S. President-elect Barack Obama affirming Arab states’ commitment to concluding a comprehensive peace agreement with Israel based on the Arab Peace Initiative that was adopted in Beirut in 2002 and later in Riyadh in 2005.
That deal would have secured the birth of an independent Palestinian state to coexist next to Israel. That the Arabs would finally agree on a singular approach to solving the Arab-Israeli conflict — 60 years after the creation of the Jewish state — was a historic breakthrough of enormous magnitude. But the initiative was brushed aside by the Sharon government and the Bush administration. A rare opportunity to hammer out an acceptable settlement to this bloody and intractable conflict was lost.
Today as Israel considers an all-out invasion and reoccupation of Gaza with the purpose of destroying Hamas and other resistance movements there, the prospects of a two-state solution being resurrected soon seems far-fetched.
The ramifications of a major onslaught on Gaza will be enormous and its reverberations will be felt in Israel, the Palestinian territories and across the region for many years to come.
The question that keeps popping up every now and then is this: Is it already too late for a two-state compromise in historical Palestine? Put another way; is it a laggard concept in a fast-changing geopolitical environment? There are many who believe so, in spite of the global commitment to it as shown in the latest U.N. Security Council resolution.
Resolution 1850 was a sort of valediction by the outgoing Bush administration, which over a period of eight years had failed to strike a conclusive deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. A belated awakening at Annapolis last year was not enough to fulfill a pledge by President Bush to make the Palestinian state a reality by year’s end.
Instead, the U.S. under Bush had allowed Israel to reverse most PNA gains under Oslo, while unleashing the biggest and most ambitious scheme to colonize the West Bank ever. The most complex issues that kept the negotiators apart — Jerusalem, settlements and refugees — were getting more complicated, and in the view of critics of the two-state solution from both sides, no equitable solution to them exists.
Of course, things could be much easier if Israel would just accept, without conditions, to withdraw from all territories it occupied in June 1967, including Jerusalem, and agree to allow refugees to return or be compensated. But more than 40 years of troubled history, biased politics and physical tampering of conquered lands make this virtually impossible.
Compromises were needed, and believed to have been given, but the proverbial window of opportunity kept closing at the last moment.
But if not a two-state solution, then what? The alternative, some believe, is simple and straightforward: A binational state combining Israel and Palestine, in effect a new state altogether. Last week Ghada Karmi, a respected Palestinian intellectual, wrote an opinion piece in The Guardian Weekly in which she enunciated her case for a one-state solution, adding that it is now part of mainstream discourse. She declared that “the peace process predicated on the two-state solution is stagnant, and a momentum has started toward the obvious alternative, a unitary state.”
She is not the first Palestinian activist to promote the concept. The late Palestinian-American intellectual Edward Said suggested in 1999 that “classical Zionism has provided no solution to Palestinian presence… the peace process has in fact put off the real reconciliation that must occur if the hundred-year war between Zionism and the Palestinian people is to end. Oslo set the stage for separation, but real peace can come only with a binational Israeli-Palestinian state.”
In addition, Israeli and Jewish writers and politicians have also called for a one-state solution for the conflict. While the concept is rejected by a majority of Israelis, a recent poll suggested that up to a quarter of Palestinians now support it. It is understandable why more Palestinians will probably lean in favor of a single binational state in the near future.
Palestinian activist Ali Abunimah contends that ordinary Palestinians are significantly more supportive of the one-state solution than are Palestinian intellectuals.
Since Oslo and especially in the past few years, Israel had embarked on an aggressive scheme to fatten existing settlements, erect new ones, built an elaborate network of new roads in the occupied territories to serve only Jewish enclaves, constructed the barrier wall which cuts through Palestinian lands, towns and villages and pursued a deliberate plan to expel Arab residents in Jerusalem and annex nearby Jewish settlements to the city to change its demographic character.
Virginia Tilley, political science professor and author of the 2005 groundbreaking book “The One-State Solution: A Breakthrough for Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Deadlock,” recently wrote that her experience and research have confirmed the death of the two-state solution. She added that the one-state solution has become inevitable. “Nor is this analysis confined to Palestinians: Broad layers of diplomats and other staff from European states and the U.N. are privately discussing the one-state solution. Moreover, some of the most eloquent endorsements for such a solution are from prominent Jewish professionals in Israel and abroad.”
Perhaps one of the most prominent critics of Zionism and Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians is Avraham Burg, a former Israeli politician and an establishment insider, whose recent books and articles warned of the end of the Jewish state and the demise of Zionism. In a recent interview published in The Independent, Burg said that he feared that the days of the conventionally envisaged two-state solution may be “numbered.”
“We are abducted by the settlers; they are abducted by Hamas. If Bibi Netanyahu comes back to power and Hamas stays in power there will be an awful clash between our one-state-solution vision and their one-state-solution vision. None of these religious zealots really expresses the real will of the people and one of the only ways I know how to redeem the people from being hostage is to offer an alternative background.”
Can that alternative background be a binational state? For now that solution, if it can be called that, is far from reality. Meanwhile, the two nationalisms in Palestine/Israel continue to clash with no end in sight.
– Osama Al-Sharif is a veteran publisher and commentator based in Jordan. (Originally published in Arab News – www.arabnews.com – on December 24, 2008)