August 26, 2008
Following 60 years of displacement, intimidation, humiliation and confinement the Palestinians are no nearer to possessing an internationally-recognized homeland with secure borders than they were when the terror began pre-1948. To me, this indicates that there is something fundamentally wrong with the strategies of the Palestinians and their backers for achieving what most of us take for granted as our God-given right – a country we call “home”.
The core issue is this. Two peoples – cousins if you like – dispute ownership of the same comparatively tiny piece of Middle Eastern real estate. The Jews say they have a Biblical claim while the Palestinian Arabs can trace timeless roots and in many cases carefully preserve yellowing deeds to their houses and farms, many of which have long been levelled.
Everyone directly involved thinks they are in the right and despite endless discussion and argument set out in tens of thousands of books or articles very few on either side ever change their mind.
Basic logic guides those of us who are naturally disinclined to solve problems with genocide or enforced relocation towards two solutions. Either the land has to be carved into two viable sovereign states that each have the potential of thriving independently or both peoples must accept living together as equals under the umbrella of one state.
Conventional wisdom today holds to the two-state solution which has been the official goal of successive Israeli governments, the Palestinian National Authority and the international community for decades.
It should be a simple task for any experienced cartographer to re-draw the map loosely based on United Nations Security Council resolutions and the status quo prior to Israel’s 1967 land grab. Or, alternatively, bi-lateral negotiations, provided both sides have the will to succeed should eventually be fruitful – at least in principle.
But it’s not happening! We’ve had Oslo, Camp David, the so-called ‘Roadmap’ and Annapolis. We’ve had promises from the Bush White House that 2008 is the magic year that will finally close the chapter on Palestinian suffering. But all that’s been spoken and penned on this painful subject can be written off as mere lip service.
A two-state solution is just not happening. And, indeed, if Israel and its friends in Washington had truly wanted it to manifest it would have done so a very long time ago.
Even if by some highly unlikely miraculous turn of fate a US president sympathetic to the Palestinian plight agreed to turn the screws on Israel to come up with the long-promised goods, the fact is, that as soon as he or she were voted out of office, Israel could simply roll its tanks back in.
A good indication of this is its threats to re-occupy Gaza every time a home-made rocket is lobbed in its direction.
The only Palestinian state worth having would be one whose borders would be guaranteed by major international powers to be sacrosanct. In other words, Israel would need to understand that any infringement of Palestinian sovereignty would involve major military repercussions. And to be economically feasible, Palestinians would need to have absolute control over their own frontiers, coasts and skies. Neither of these conditions would be willingly embraced by even the most dovish Israeli premier.
Then, of course, there are the seemingly insolvable issues of which side gets Jerusalem as its capital, what rights would refugees have to return and how should water be distributed.
But as Israel consistently reneges on signed accords and agreements by expanding illegal colonies, fails to dismantle military outposts, cuts off Jerusalem and continues its construction of an apartheid wall delineating de facto borders, the two-state promise crumbles into dust.
Faced by a reality that is becoming ever more unpalatable as each year passes, more and more Palestinians are reluctantly coming to the conclusion that the time for a two-state solution may have passed. Last year, 26 percent of Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza told pollsters that they now prefer the bi-national option over two states.
A growing number of Palestinian intellectuals are now proponents of one-state, after taking the baton from the late Edward Said.
If the Israelis are reluctant to bless a Palestinian state they are downright fearful of accepting Palestinians into their own on a one-man-one-vote basis. Some hardliners even label the idea as being anti-Semitic because, they say, it threatens Israel’s Jewish integrity. This is because Jewish-Arab population parity isn’t far off.
The former Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia once warned that Palestinians would seek a bi-national state if Israel continues absorbing West Bank land.
The Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert understands what’s at stake. He claims that more and more Palestinians want to change the conflict from an “Algerian paradigm to a South African one; from a struggle against occupation, in their parlance, to a struggle for one-man-one-vote. That is, of course, a much cleaner struggler, a much more popular struggle – and ultimately, a much more powerful one. For us it would mean the end of the Jewish state”.
Given the dwindling options, the Israeli leadership should enthusiastically grab the Arab Initiative, first proposed by Saudi Arabia at the 2002 Arab League Summit in Beirut (and since reaffirmed) before it disappears off the table for ever. This provides both Israel and Palestinians with the security they crave, while Israel would be fully accepted into the neighbourhood by all Arab League members on an equal footing.
In a world where the centres of global power are re-arranging and in an area where demographics are shifting, Israel needs to understand once and for all that the days when it can have its cake and eat it too are coming to an end.