By Hasan Afif El-Hasan
The ‘two-state solution’ phrase was first coined in the 1947 UN General Assembly Resolution 181 to create two independent states in historical Palestine.
Israel has been created and recognized within undefined borders and the phrase today implies whether and how to create the second state. The “two-state” solution has different meanings for the different parties involved in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
For the Palestinians, it means a sovereign state in all the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem and the refugees right of return to their homes in Israel proper; for the Israelis, it means a slightly different version of the status quo in the occupied lands, a self-rule over disconnected enclaves or “Bantustans” that have the façade of a state with a president, ministers, legislative council, Judiciary, ambassadors and security forces that control the population and guarantee Israel’s security, but no control over Jerusalem, the borders, water resources, shore and airspace. The recognized state of Israel on 78 percent of Palestine has not fulfilled the ambitions of the Zionists who have been striving to have all of Palestine. The Israeli peace activist Jeff Halper wrote on November 28, 2007 that Israel plans to create a Palestinian state that consists of “tiny Bantustan on four or five cantons, all encircled by Israeli settlements. Israeli control of the entire land, whether for religious, national or security reasons, is a given”. And for the US, the “two-state” solution has been used mainly as a public relations slogan to manage the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and pacify the Palestinians and their supporters.
On March 12, 2002, while the US was massing troops and war machines in the Arab Gulf states preparing for the invasion of Iraq, a member of the Arab League; and the Israeli military was embarking on far reaching measures against the Palestinians under occupation including assassinations, detentions and demolitions, the US submitted the so called “the Bush vision of two-state solution” proposal to the UN Security Council. All Council members (Syria abstained) adopted Resolution 1397 that affirmed Bush vision. The Resolution that was welcomed by most Arab states especially Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Morocco also called for immediate cessation of all acts of violence.
The so called “Bush vision” was adopted by the policy makers of the “Quartet”, a formulation that had been created by the US, Russia, the EU and the UN to help reach a peaceful resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The Quartet launched a “Roadmap” plan to end the hostilities and establish a new basis for communications between the Israelis and the Palestinians based on the US “Two-State” vision. The Roadmap provides a plan for the progression toward peace in three phases on the basis of performance, and like Oslo agreements, it deferred the permanent status issues to the final phase.
The government of Israel noted that the Roadmap would be implemented subject to fourteen political and security reservations including that neither the Saudi initiative nor the Arab initiative serve as a basis for the political process and the Palestinians should publicly declare their “renunciation of the right of return” and accept Israel’s right “to exist as a Jewish state”. Israel has practically rejected the Roadmap basic premises with its unacceptable caveats and prerequisites. But Bush Administration promised to take into account Israel’s reservations at the implementation stage. While the US was supporting and defending Israel’s policies that rendered the Palestinian version of the “two-state solution” impossible to implement, the “two-state solution” became mainly a slogan phrase used by President Bush and his Secretary of State to pacify the Palestinians and the US Arab allies.
A month after the adoption of the UN Security Council 1397 Resolution, the Arab League summit in Beirut adopted a Saudi Arabian proposal that has been referred to as the “pan-Arab peace initiative”. It calls on Israel to withdraw to the 4th of June 1967 lines, the establishment of an independent sovereign Palestinian state and a just resolution of refugee problem, in exchange for full recognition and blanket normalization with Israel by all Arab states. The summit was followed by then Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah address to the Israeli people reminiscent of President Sadat address on his historic visit to the Knesset.
The Arab initiative that was only a common statement of principle for a political settlement and the appeal by the Saudi leader were meant to send a message mostly to the US that the Arab regimes were for peace and true partners in the campaign against extremism. But the Israeli government under Sharon roundly dismissed the initiative and the Saudi public statement. Israel spurned the opportunity to seriously discuss the ideas put forth by the Arab leaders, and instead, activated its superior military power against the Palestinian insurgency (Second Intifada) by imposing collective punishment and inflicting daily injuries on innocent Palestinians.
By rejecting the Roadmap and the pan-Arab peace initiative, Israel was the real rejectionist in the conflict. Faith of the Palestinians in Israel’s intentions to accept a just “two-state solution” by peaceful means was eroded. Professor Ze’ev Maoz, a critic of Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians wrote in 2006 that “Israel’s history of peacemaking has been largely reactive, risk avoidance,… that stands in contrast to its proactive and trigger happy strategic doctrine”. Since the creation of Israel, its leaders assert that all Palestine belongs exclusively to the Jews; and a two-state solution where the indigenous Palestinians would have a sovereign state in the center of their land will be a constant threat to the state of Israel.
David Ben-Gurion summarized Israel’s position regarding peace with the Arabs in 1949 when, according to the historian Benny Morris, Ben-Gurion told his minister of foreign affairs, Moshe Sharett that “Israel will not discuss a peace involving the concession of any piece of territory”. In his book, “An Israeli in Palestine”, Professor Jeff Halper writes that many Arab leaders including Husni Zaim of Syria, King Abdullah the First of Jordan, Adib Shishakli of Syria, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Abdel Hakim Amer of Egypt, Anwar Sadat of Egypt and West Bank Palestinian leaders offered to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict but the Israeli leaders steadfastly refused to reciprocate. Another Israeli historian, Avi Shlaim wrote in his 2001 book that there was “evidence of Arab peace feelers and Arab readiness to negotiate with Israel from September 1948 on”.
Immediately after the 1967 war, King Hussein of Jordan was willing to enter into peace talk only if Israel withdraws from the occupied lands. And the Palestinians of the West Bank were ready to discuss peace if that meant an independent Palestinian state. Israel’s response to King Hussein and the West Bank Palestinians was annexation of East Jerusalem and a program for confiscating Palestinian lands and building settlements.
President Sadat proposed in 1971 to the UN Jarring Commission, Egypt’s willingness to enter into a peace agreement with Israel, but Prime Minister Golda Meir dismissed Sadat overture, thus forcing Egypt to wage the 1973 war to liberate Sinai. And Sadat attempted to resolve the Palestinian issue in 1978, but Israel refused to consider offering anything for the Palestinians more than limited autonomy.
In their 1988 declaration of independence, the PLO leadership recognized Israel within the Green Line, but Israel refused the gesture. And in the 1993 Oslo peace agreements, the PLO submitted in writing their recognition of Israel as a legitimate state, but Rabin was only willing to recognize the PLO as a negotiation partner.
President Clinton’s 2000 permanent status initiative for solving the conflict curtailed the territorial integrity and sovereignty of a proposed Palestinian state, and granted Israel’s security the highest priority, but the initiative drew criticism from members of Israel’s military and the Knesset. Senior Israeli military columnist Ze’ev Schiff wrote in Haaretz that “the Chief of General Staff Shaul Mofaz had said the US proposals posed a threat to the state”. Makor Rishon daily newspaper quoted the Israeli Knesset Member Rehavam Ze’evi on December 29, 2000 asking Prime Minister Ehud Barak to reject President Clinton initiative because “there is a law in Israel which rules that anyone acting to transfer territory from the state to the enemy is to be deemed a traitor, which is punishable by death”.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stated on many occasions his support to the two-state solution, but under his watch the newly built settler units in the West Bank increased by 69 percent in 2008 compared to 2007, and the settler population in the West Bank grew by 25,000. The figures do not include the more than 250,000 settlers living in East Jerusalem, according to Peace Now group. Olmert accepted the 2007 Annapolis conference decision to enter into negotiations with the Palestinians for reaching the two-state solution by the end of 2008. But the two-state solution offer made by Olmert after 12 months of negotiations was disconnected enclaves in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. His military carried out the barbarous massacres of the starved and besieged refugees in Gaza.
Professor Halper attributes the Israelis’ intransigence prior to 1967 war to their success in negotiating the armistice agreements that left Israel in a politically, territorially and militarily superior position. Ben Gurion was quoted telling a visiting American journalist saying in 1949, “I am not in a hurry and I can wait ten years”. If Israel was confident after the 1948 war and the signing of the armistice agreements, it should be even more confident and less concerned about the Arab military threat after the 1967 war, the signing of the Egyptian and Jordanian peace treaties, the signing of the Oslo agreements and the end of the Iraqi belligerent regime.
President Barack Obama has reaffirmed the US commitment to the two-state solution, but on the matters that count, he has continued the Bush administration failing policies. He promised to listen but his envoy, George Mitchell, did not take the time to visit and listen to the latest victims of the Israeli aggression on Gaza even after three tours to the region. Neither Obama nor Mitchell condemned the attacks on Gaza that resulted in the death of 1,300 Palestinians including women and children. Obama is following Bush administration’s policy of dividing the Palestinians into moderates and extremists and talking only to those Bush called moderates. President Obama caved to the pro-Israel lobby in Washington by withdrawing the nomination of his choice as head of the NSC, Charles Freeman, because he does not support the Israeli right wing extremists’ agenda. The US under Obama continues to use the “two-state” solution phrase only as a pacifier slogan for the Palestinians and their supporters.
The irony is that, despite the fact that it was Israel that destroyed the Palestinian society, colonized and confiscated their land then refused to consider the Palestinians and Arab peace overtures, the Israeli governments and their supporters in the US succeeded over the years in presenting the Arabs and the Palestinians as intractable enemies, warmongers, hell-bent on Israel’s destruction.
-Born in Nablus, Palestine, Hasan Afif El-Hasan, Ph.D, is a political analyst. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.