By Dr. Manal A. Jamal
Blind optimism, group think, and a fundamental misreading of developments are not unique to Palestinian politics; all movements are lost in disarray at some points in history. The trouble with Palestine is that these two delusions, a debate trapped between the limited parameters of the one-state and truncated two-state narratives, has lost complete touch with reality.
On the one hand, we have the ‘Fayyadists,’ over-confident as they are illegitimate, convinced that unilateral economic projects, lip service to good governance, and a nod from the European Union will somehow yield sovereign, autonomous statehood. Along with Fatah, they are obstinately convinced that negotiations to nowhere without pre-conditions, maintenance of their power at the helm, and a criminal blockade against Gaza is in the interest of the Palestinian people.
On the other hand, and sometimes more out of touch with reality, are the bi-national, one-statists, as overly-confident, as they are often ill-informed, assured that the politics of demographics, Israel’s intransigence, and the eventual majority of Palestinians between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean will force an unsustainable apartheid-like situation that will give way to bi-national statehood for Palestinians and Jews. To the bi-national, one-statists, time is unconditionally on the side of Palestinians.
More realistic assessments, however, do not flaunt the same optimism. Economic projects, no matter how ambitious, will not give way to sovereign statehood. And continued fragmentation of the West Bank, and the politics of demographics ALONE will not result in a bi-national state. Latinos will soon constitute a numeric majority in the state of California; we will not see a return of California to Mexico, nor even credible discussion about Spanish becoming an official language of the state. Numbers do not translate to political programs.
The geographic severance of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank are not random, and another scenario is clearly on the table: the no-state option; and here I am not referring to indefinite occupation, or a continuation of the status quo. Another reality is unfolding: a sealed-off Gaza Strip that is entirely reliant on Egypt, with diminishing organic ties to the West Bank (even prior to the Hamas take-over), and a West Bank that is increasingly tied to Jordan. Israeli settlements in the Jordan valley constitute a minority of Israeli settlements, and by no means a significant barrier to a West Bank ‘shifted’ to Jordan. On the eve of Oslo, never in our remotest dreams did we imagine that one day it would be easier for a Palestinian to travel to Amman than to Jerusalem. In a span of fifteen years, almost all West Bank contact to the outside world must now be channeled through Jordan. ‘Expulsion from Palestine’ need not be physical, but increased dependency could re-configure relations that would allow for few options besides de-facto ‘federal arrangements’ between the West Bank and Jordan. What is at hand is the possible demise of the Palestinian nationalist project itself.
Some would counter that Jordan would not accept this. In the world of power politics, Jordan, a fragile monarchy and text-book case weak state will not necessarily be in a position to dictate its preferences to the international community.
Time is not necessarily on the side of the Palestinians, and the ‘over-confidence’ of some Palestinians at this moment in history is misplaced. One cannot help but wonder how arrogant some would we if one year and four months later, after unprecedented criticism against Israel, cement were allowed into Gaza, re-construction of Cast-lead damage has begun, and those who lost their homes during Cast-lead were no longer living in tents?, or if cancer patients were allowed to leave Gaza for treatment. Or in the ‘privileged’ West Bank, if Palestinians were allowed free entry into Jerusalem?, or if there were a halt to settlement expansion?, or if villages had free access to nearby towns?…
In the world of politics, there is a distinction between material realities and ideal situations. In the 21st century, a democratic, one state solution, in which each person has one vote, regardless of religion would be ideal. Desires and visions, however do not shape reality: Further crippling of Palestinian West Bank enclaves and demographic pressures alone are not going to yield bi-national arrangements without a concrete political program.
Unfortunately, a truthful reading of where Palestine is today points to the very real possibility that a ‘no-state’ option is real. What is needed is a practical program of action, and an end to quibbling about abstractions; this program could at least begin with an immediate end to the siege of Gaza, steps towards the re-integration of the West Bank and Gaza, and free movement for Palestinians, including entry into Jerusalem– not tomorrow, or the day after, but today.
– Dr. Manal A. Jamal is an Assistant Professor of Politics at James Madison University. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.